Government responds to NGO sector concerns during COVID-19 crisis
The emergency measures implemented in Latvia due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have had a negative impact on the organised civil society sector, as reported by the national platform Civic Alliance - Latvia (CAL).
On 17th March 2020 the CAL sent a letter to the Cabinet of Ministers and the Saeima (parliament) requesting that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should be considered when deciding on support measures for companies and sectors affected by the crisis. The letter included a list of measures such as creating a favourable situation for NGOs by allowing downtime conditions on salary payments and introducing a ‘tax holiday’ or deferral.
In light of the crisis, on 19th March 2020, the Cabinet extended the deadline for submitting annual reports by associations, foundations and religious organisations, provided that these organisations are eligible to submit an annual report for the 2019 period to the State Revenue Service before 31st July 2020.
On 26th March 2020, in response to the letter from NGOs and following a meeting, the Cabinet endorsed the criteria and procedures for obtaining allowances. According to this, an employer and taxpayer in any industry affected by the COVID-19 crisis can qualify for down time allowance and tax holidays for up to three years. Crisis-affected employers and crisis-affected taxpayers, including those working in the NGO sector, are eligible to apply for a down time allowance, distribution of payments of tax arrears and tax holidays of up to three years.
The sector has welcomed the initiatives put in place by the government to support CSOs (civil society organisations) amid the crisis.
On 3rd April 2020, a meeting of representatives of the CAL and NGOs took place, where the current issues regarding the impact of the emergency situation on the sector and the lack of support mechanisms for CSOs were discussed. In total, more than 30 CSO representatives took part in the discussion, where the following issues were debated:
- The aftermath of the crisis on the non-governmental sector (based on the information provided by CSOs and the results of a survey);
- A letter from the Ministry of Culture in response to the Alliance's proposals and a description of the situation regarding the impact of the COVID-19 crisis upon CSOs;
- Existing state-approved support mechanisms and their applicability to the non-governmental sector.
In addition, on 6th April 2020, the CAL sent a letter calling for supportive solutions for civil society organisations (CSO). The alliance called for responsible officials to decide on support measures for COVID-19 crisis victims, employers and taxpayers, and for support measures that also address the specific problems of civil society organisations.
The CAL provided proposals for solutions aimed at creating the necessary pre-conditions primarily to prevent or reduce job losses or forced downtime in the current situation, the liquidation of organisations as a result of COVID-19 consequences and to reduce pressure on the social budget.
In addition, to tackle the impact of the crisis, the national platform, Civic Alliance – Latvia is asking NGOs to provide information on the impact of the pandemic on their organisations. The results of the survey will be used to communicate with the responsible authorities and jointly seek solutions to support NGOs. The survey is available here.
Active Citizens Fund budget announced
As reported previously on the Monitor, there was a foreseen increase in the budget given to the NGO sector. In addition, for 2020, the Active Citizens Fund (ACF) for Strengthening Latvian Civil Society is valued at around three million Euros.
At the end of April or beginning of May 2020, tenders were to be launched to the value of 2.8 million Euros for civic initiatives and participatory activity programmes and, in the first half of the summer, another tender valued at 315,000 Euros on capacity building measures for civil society organisations.
However, it is not yet possible to determine the exact dates of the tender, as the documents are being coordinated with the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norwegian financial instruments in Brussels, and the IT system for project submission is being developed. In addition, it should be noted that due to the changes related to COVID-19, the various coordination processes with the Financial Mechanisms office in Brussels may be delayed at present. More information can be found here.
Latvia has risen two places in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, from 24 in 2019 to 22 in 2020.