RECENTLY, Decree-Law No. 21 of 2020 was issued regarding private associations and institutions in Qatar. It does not appear from the subject of the legislation itself that there was an exceptional circumstance that necessitated its issuance, without waiting for the return of the Shura Council, which was the next week. Likewise, the imminent elections for some associations’ boards of directors cannot be used as an explanation for this new legislation.
We find that the most important thing that the new law added, and was not stipulated in the previous law, is something related to the organization of elections to the Association’s Board of Directors. The new legislation obligates the association’s board of directors to publish, 60 days before the general assembly meetings, the names of members who paid the annual membership fees, at the association’s headquarters or on its website or both.
The new law also stipulated that the association shall keep in its headquarters, for a period of 10 years, documents and electronic copies of the summary of the minutes of meetings, records, and notebooks and every member of the association must have access to them.
These additions have been praised, as they may be intended to facilitate the electoral process, enhance transparency, enable candidates contesting for the Board of Directors to know the names of the members of the association who are entitled to vote, and to see the documents and records of the association.
Despite these positive factors, there are other aspects of the law that could be read otherwise and violate the tenets of freedom of association. Among them is what is stated in Article (7) regarding the power of the competent department to reject the application for registration and the registration of the association in public interest!
Another clause relates to the period set for the administration to respond to the registration request. The new law extends the period for response to the registration request to 60 days, while it was 30 days in the previous law. At the same time, the new law keeps a flawed clause that was in the previous law, which is that if the period passes without a response, it will be considered as automatic rejection.
We believe that in regulating rights and freedoms, the lapse of the period without a response must be considered as an automatic approval of the request since the objective is to guarantee the rights and enable individuals to practise it, and not otherwise.
The new legislation is like its predecessor. The Council of Ministers decided that it is obligated to respond to the grievances submitted by those whose request was rejected, but did not specify a time period for the council to respond to the grievance. The matter gets worse when we know that the decisions issued under the Association Law are outside the judiciary’s purview.
The new law talks about fees, but while the previous law specified the types of fees, like the association fee, the annual fee, and the renewal fee, the new law comes with a general phrase mentioning ‘fees for services provided by the ministry’. It is a phrase that allows more types of fees to be decided by the president of the association and allows the possibility to increase the amount of fees by a decision of the minister. Fees were determined by law in the past, and their amounts and types will be determined by a decision now, and there is a difference between the law and the decision.
Another issue in the new legislation relates to the obligation of the association to notify the competent administration when organizing seminars, conferences, or training courses, but also to notify who are participating in these events! In light of leaving the implementation of the provisions of the law to decisions issued by the minister, it is unclear whether the executive decisions will burden the association with other requirements, or be an entry point to prevent, restrict or delay the association’s practice of its activities.
On the other hand, and unfortunately, the new law adheres to what was mentioned in the previous law prohibiting the association from issuing data not related to the profession. It is a very strange clause, as associations are an integral part of society. They care about its concerns, feel its problems, become angry with its anger, and are accountable to its constituents, as they are the voice and pulse of the society, and that’s why they call themselves civil society organizations.
Finally, one of the additions made by the new legislation is the possibility of dissolving the association if it contravenes the regulations, which are decisions issued by the minister, and those who are familiar with the law will find that with the broad range of topics that were left for the approval of the minister or for the approval of the administration, it’s so easy to break the rules.
I had hoped, when we joined the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2018, that the new legislation would bring more guarantees for freedom of association, and more facilities to enable its exercise – for example, that the establishment of an association would be by notification and not by licensing.
I had also expected that the clause for rejection would be convincing and the possibility of rejection under the cloak of broad public interest would be removed, and the clause regarding non-response as an automatic rejection would be changed and the duration for response to the license application would be reduced, the excessive fees would be reduced, and the association will be allowed to freely practice its activities and that the dissolution of the association should only be by a court ruling, and that decisions issued under the Law of Associations are not immune from judicial consideration.
However, the new legislation did not meet these expectations.