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article imagePoland's rightwing government takes control of NGO funding

By AFP     Sep 15, 2017 in World

Poland's parliament voted Friday to create a body to distribute funds to non-governmental organisations, a move slammed by the opposition as a bid by the rightwing government to control NGOs.

The National Institute for Freedom - Civil Society Development Centre, will be attached to the prime minister's office and supervised by another new body, the Public Affairs Committee, comprising senior officials from several ministries.

A minister acting as the committee's chairman will appoint the institute's director.

The Polish government has drawn ire both at home and abroad for a string of reforms that the EU has warned undermine democratic standards and the rule of law.

Culture Minister Piotr Glinski told reporters that the new organisation "addresses the needs of NGOs, especially smaller, local NGOs, which have not received adequate support to date."

But opposition parties spoke of a hidden agenda.

"Government surveillance of NGOs is nothing more than an attempt to liquidate them," said Krystian Jarubas, an MP from the centrist Polish peasant party.

Liberal Civic Platform MP Monika Wielichowska said the law "opens the door to ideologically-motivated decisions".

Poland's Ombudsman Adam Bodnar and the Helsinki Foundation human rights organisation have also expressed concern.

Bodnar said in July that some of the bill's measures "contradict norms that are clearly defined" by bodies like the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, and that it fails to protect NGOs against "political pressure".

The Helsinki Foundation also said that the law "represented a step backward" for civil society and "created a systemic danger for the operation and independent development of NGOs in Poland."

To take effect, the new law must be endorsed by the Senate and the president. Both have indicated their intention to approve it.

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