Time to abridge CSO Act

Ironically, despite several meetings held between Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) members and the government to resolve the complexity and clear the unclear clauses on tax exemption, the challenges of CSOs are not clearly understood by the lawmakers and it is still left unclear.

The Civil Society Organizations Act of Bhutan 2007 states that public benefit organisations may be granted exemptions from payment of customs duties or other taxes besides income tax, on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with regulations and procedures issued jointly by the Authority and the Department of Revenue and Customs.

The concerns were shared by the CSOs members in the past regarding Civil Society Act 2007 and CSO Amendment Bill 2021. The members raised the concern that the  current act has a major complex registration process and unclear clauses on tax exemptions. The section on tax exemption creates a lot of ambiguity. CSOs wants registration process conducive, facilitative and less regulatory for their growth.

For the registration of CSO, it requires the submission of many documents like income and assets declaration of family members and dependents, which becomes procedural hassle.

CSOs or Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are the individuals or groups which carry social action who are neither connected to, nor managed by the state. It’s a non-profit organization working the cause of social benefit, especially where the government cannot cover. CSOs have become part of the development process, both on the ground, where they may be responsible for delivering services or implementing donor-funded projects.

CSOs remind governments and institutions to account such as abuses and provide information to both domestic constituencies and international organisations. They advocate or represent raising awareness of issues, giving a voice to the marginalised and advocating for change.

The NGOs complement government poverty alleviation programmes with community-based tailored assistance using evidence-based, innovative and sustained solutions, localising the SDGs and monitoring progress, promoting citizen-centric, collaborative governance, empowering women and disabilities and acting for climate change.  

The National Council adopted the CSO (Amendment) Bill 2021 in June and CSO Act will be discussed in the upcoming Parliament session.

The CSO government meet was held to enable civil society action-takers, lawmakers, and the government to establish a better understanding of civil society’s work, challenges, and opportunities.

With better understanding from the meet, CSO members hope for hope for a better and conducive CSO Act. The government may increase surveillance but should not close space for the growth of civil society in Bhutan.