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Beijing tightens up on NGOs but remains silent on spending

From Paul French, China editor of Ethical Corporation:

In the current issue of Ethical Corporation I have a column dealing with the problems NGOs, both domestic and foreign, in China are facing at the moment.

Oxfam is the most recent victim having an internship programme for Chinese students to work with migrant workers attacked.

This situation seems to have escalated since questions first arose in 2008 in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake when various local charities and activists demanded to know how the government was spending the flood of charitable donations that came in. Beijing did not like being asked to account for itself.

Now prominent Chinese artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, has filed a suit against the Ministry of Civil Affairs accusing them of failing to reply to his request for information about the toll and cost of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. Ai filed a request in November asking the ministry how many buildings fell in the quake, the amount of donations received, the cost of recovery and other details but has yet to get any reply. Now he has filed another suit Ai with the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court that a response.

To date details from the government over spending after the earthquake have been scant and highly general – Hou Xiongfei, the Vice Director of Sichuan Publicity Department has stated that, as of the end of January, 2010, 28,186 earthquake reconstruction projects had started, of which 21,944 have been completed, accounting for 73.9% of all reconstruction projects – but which projects these are, what money was used and how much, we do not know.

Meanwhile NGOs are now subject to new requirements that they believe will make it harder for them to accept overseas donations. The new rules require domestic NGOs to prove that donor organizations based overseas are registered in their home countries. Religious groups face even tighter requirements now as they must have approval from the State Religious Affairs Bureau for any donations exceeding RMB1 million ($146,000). Notably NGOs connected to the government (China’s so-called GONGOs) are exempt from the new rules.

For Paul’s recent ten page China briefing in PDF, and another 20 a year like it, check out the website.

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