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Procedures simplified in a pilot program
Wang Jinyun had waited nine years for the piece of paper that officially confirmed his organization's NGO status. That precious piece of paper also confirmed that Shenzhen’s NGO registration reforms are working.
Wang, founder of Shenzhen-based Yangguangxia (Under the Sun), said his application, the fifth since 2003, was approved due to the reforms.
Wang previously had to register his organization as a company with the local industry and commerce office even though it was nonprofit and dedicated to helping ex-convicts land a job and persuading fugitives to surrender.
This was because regulations require that an NGO must find an administrative body to oversee its activities before it can register with the civil affairs authorities.
Administrative departments tended to shy away from the legal responsibilities, said Ma Hong, director of the NGO management department at the Shenzhen bureau of civil affairs, in an interview with China Daily.
Even registered NGOs lost some of their independence because supervisors had a say in their operations, Ma said.
Shenzhen has taken the lead in simplifying registration.
The key is to enable more grassroots organizations to register directly, bypassing supervisors, with the civil affairs departments, she said.
The reform started gradually in 2004 when trade associations were able to register with civil affairs departments, and in 2008, direct registration expanded to social organizations.
Eight NGO categories, including social, service, cultural and environmental, were able to register in July with civil affairs departments in Guangdong province, including Shenzhen.
More than 700 NGOs, out of a registered total of 5,094, were directly registered with the civil affairs departments since Shenzhen eased the registration policy in 2004, according to Ma.
In the first half of 2012, 61 NGOs registered directly, accounting for 66 percent of all successful registrations during the same period.
Wang Ming, director of the NGO Research Center at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said that registering with civil affairs departments was vital as registered NGOs qualify for more resources from the government and enjoy tax breaks. Nineteen provinces and regions, including Guangdong, Anhui and Beijing, have started pilot programs to test direct registration for NGOs, Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo said at a conference held in Shenzhen in July.
However, the new procedure does not yet cover NGOs involved in the education and health sectors, Ma said.
Shenzhen is also considering allowing overseas charitable organizations to set up offices. Foreigners may also be able to register charitable organizations in the coastal city, said Hou Yisha, deputy director of the Shenzhen bureau of civil affairs.
A draft law proposed that foreign charitable organizations could register with the civil affairs department in Shenzhen as long as they met laws and regulations.
It also added that the legal representative of a charitable organization should live in Shenzhen for more than three months every year if he or she is not a Chinese national.
Hou said the draft regulations are expected to take effect by the end of 2012, if approved by the local legislature.
Ma stressed that registration reform will not result in lax supervision of NGOs.
"We have opened the gates for social organizations to register, but it doesn't mean that we are lowering the requirements. Instead, we have been working hard to ensure that they can provide better services and respond to social needs more quickly."
The local government has provided free training workshops for almost half of all NGO staff members in Shenzhen to improve their skills in terms of project management, tax, financial policies and fundraising, Ma said.
Meanwhile, the city has also shut down 26 NGOs, and warned some 70 others that failed to submit paperwork confirming their activities, financial situation and internal governance for the government’s annual inspection check, she said.
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