(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): I have given notice to the Speaker of Parliament, Tan Sri Mohamad Zahir Ismail that I will move two amendments to the Companies Act Amendment Bill when Parliament resumes on Wednesday to repeal clauses which are meant to restrict and hamper the free activities of NGOs.
Under the Companies Act Amendment Bill, which is currently being taken through the Second Reading in Parliament, the Registrar of Companies would be given powers to refuse registration of the memorandum of a proposed company if it was likely to be used for unlawful purposes or any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with peace, welfare, security, public order, good order or morality, or prejudicial to national security or public interest as well as to provide additional grounds for the Registrar of Companies to petition the Courts to compulsorily wind up the company on similar grounds.
The government had made it clear numerous times that the amendments to the Companies Act were directed at NGOs which are now operating under the Companies Act.
It is most regrettable that the government should have introduced new legislative measures to hamper the freedom of activities of NGOs when it should be creating more space for NGOs to operate in keeping with the professed government goal to create a vibrant civil society.
All over the world, there is increasing recognition that NGOs provide a countervailing and humanizing force to the centralizing tendencies of the modern state.
The government has a tendency to regard human rights NGOs with suspicion; to equate their criticism with treason or subversion; to ban or deny them permission to register legally; and to imprison or muzzle their leaders.
The refusal of the government to register the Malaysian chapter of Amnest International and the opposition of Barisan Nasional MPs to the registration of Transparency International in Malaysia are some such examples.
As Irene Fernandez, director of Tenaganita has said about the Companies Act Amendment Bill:
"When NGOs raise issues of concern, of lack of transparency, of negligence, of violations of rights of people, it is done with a sole purpose to rectify the situation so that through these forms of check and balance, we create a society that is accountable, responsible, transparent, respects dignity and rights of the people. It is only through this process that we can bring about a better quality of life for all peoples. In short, we look forward to conflict-resolutions through mediation, develop a society that is caring and gives the highest value to life and the environment."
The government should fully respect the freedom of association - which legitimizes the formation and functioning of voluntary associations - as it is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
It should withdraw the amendments to the Companies Act designed to muzzle or close down NGOs and should instead encourage the development of a vibrant civil society through the establishment of more NGOs whether on human rights or to improve the quality of life and the environment.
NGOs in Malaysia are under attack by the Companies Act Amendment Bill and NGOs and all Malaysians committed to a vibrant civil society should speak up to demand the withdrawal of the anti-NGO amendments.