‘We cannot enforce the law without staff,’ NGO watchdog warns
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‘We cannot enforce the law without staff,’ NGO watchdog warns

Many voluntary organisations still not compliant

The office needed 31 staff members but was having to make do with seven. Photo: Shutterstock

The office needed 31 staff members but was having to make do with seven. Photo: Shutterstock

The Commissioner for Voluntary Organisations has warned that his office is finding it impossible to enforce recently-enacted legal safeguards because of a severe understaffing problem.

Presenting his annual report to Parliament’s Social Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Commissioner Anthony Abela Medici said his office needed 31 staff members but was currently having to make do with just seven.

As a result, he said, a new law aimed at closing loopholes which made organisations vulnerable to money laundering, enacted late last year, could not be enforced effectively.

“The law has made registration mandatory, but until I have the staff I need, I cannot even become aware of the organisations that have not registered,” Dr Abela Medici said, adding that staffing problems had been flagged by his predecessor two years before.

“The law also empowers me to dis-enrol organisations that are consistently non-compliant, but if I do not have the people to go over those files and see who is non-compliant, there is nothing I can do.”Some organisations have collected €80,000 for social purposes but have not disbursed a single cent

Dr Abela Medici hit out at the “laborious” recruitment process, something he said he had hoped would change with the establishment of his office as an independent public body.

“My office now has a legal personality. I should be independent of everyone,” he said, prompting committee chairman Etienne Grech to urge him to remember that the press was listening in on the meeting.

Dr Abela Medici said there remained multiple cases of non-compliance among voluntary organisations, citing the more than 40% who had failed to file their annual returns despite being required by law to do so.

“There are organisations that have collected €80,000 for social purposes but have not disbursed a single cent in three years. We have told them they will be dis-enroled if they do not remedy the situation,” he said.

Under new powers granted by the law, the office had opened investigations with local banks in three cases, of which one had been passed on to the Financial Intelligence Analysis Unit (FIAU) for further investigation, he added.

At the same time, Dr Abela Medici said his office had implemented several important changes ahead of meetings with the Council of Europe monitoring body Moneyval, including a risk assessment of all 1,400-plus registered organisations.

The office had also shared its database with the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA), police and other authorities.

He added that subsidiary legislation currently awaiting the Attorney General’s approval would establish the office as a “competent authority” for legal purposes, and include new provisions to regulate charity shops and public collections, among others.

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