By Nkosana Dlamini
A call has been made for local media to conscientise citizens on the collateral damage they stand to suffer if the Private Voluntary Organizations Act (PVO) Amendment Bill – which seeks to regulate the affairs of NGOs – is allowed to pass in its current form.
The controversial Zanu PF sponsored law was gazetted November last year but is yet to be tabled before parliament.
Like any piece of legislation, it is set to go through the formal stages of enacting a law and these include public hearings for citizen input.
However, at a MISA organised engagement meeting on law reform process in Harare this past week, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe) Legal and ICT Policy Officer Nompilo Simanje and MISA Regional Campaigns Coordinator Nqaba Matshazi insisted the Bill was a political tool tailor-made to bring down NGOs that have been a handful to government on matters to do with human rights abuses and accountability.
Among some of its ostensible objectives, the proposed law seeks to comply with recommendations made to Zimbabwe by the Financial Action Taskforce; streamline administrative procedures for PVOs to optimise regulation and registration as well as to put in place provisions to ensure that PVOs do not participate in political lobbying.
The Bill also compels all NGOs to apply for approval before making any material organisational changes which include their constitutions and leadership, disclosure of funding sources and amounts.
The law seeks to empower the government to impose its own leadership on an organisation deemed poorly managed. NGOs fear infiltration by state spies.
However, Simanje feels the Bill, if passed into law, will do more harm than good.
“The dangers are that NGOs will not be able to call out the government on human rights abuses…” she said.
She lamented that a majority ordinary citizens have not taken time to make themselves aware of the existence of, let alone appreciate the contents of the Bill for different reasons “yet NGOs are people based and the activities of the people will be affected”.
“It will be very difficult to operate…the work of civil society is at risk…only CSOs viewed not critical of government policies will not be affected much but will be affected through clauses that require them to submit monthly reports,” Simanje said.
She said the enactment of the draft law found impetus July last year when the courts blocked Secretary for Harare Metropolitan Provincial Affairs & Devolution Tafadzwa Muguti’s orders for NGOs to submit their credentials, plans and activities to his office.
“The Bill is trying to entrench state regulations of all civil society organisations in Zimbabwe, it is there to regulate political lobbying by NGOs,” she said.
Matshazi urged media to make citizens understand the Bills sinister intentions by bringing down the issues to the understanding of the common man.
“Let’s contextualise these issues and bring them down in a palatable manner to the ordinary man,” he said.
He said government was enacting the law on the ostensible bid to stem terrorist financing.
“It’s not even addressing anything around terrorist financing,” he said, adding that given that the country is a generally low risk territory for terrorism, the real intentions of the Bill was to target perceived government critics.
Matshazi added, “The right to journalism is also under threat from the PVO Amendment Bill…while it may look like it’s an attack on NGOs…you guys won’t be able to write about NGO violations in Zimbabwe as media depends largely on NGOs for data on violations.
“Advocacy will be at its weakest if this Bill passes in its current form.”
Matshazi called on government to abandon the Bill or at least delay debate on it until it met the dictates of all local and international instruments governing the enjoyment of different forms of citizen rights in those countries.
“As media, let’s keep this and the other laws on the agenda,” he said.
ZINEF coordinator Njabulo Ncube said the work of journalism was under threat from the proposed law as NGOs have carried poorly resourced media houses on their backs on issues of capacity building.
“It affects journalists. Capacity building highlighted in the IMPI report will be affected as the NGOs have been filling that gap. It is going to deny us a chance to be capacitated,” Ncube said.
Media consultant Lennox Mhlanga said the law, while intended to clip the wings of bigger and mainstream NGOs, was even more dangerous to smaller groups viewed less of a threat to the establishment.
ZACRAS acting national coordinator Mlondolozi Ndlovu urged “concerted efforts” to be placed to have “these conversations held at local community level”.
VMCZ Executive Director Loughty Dube also said local lobby to halt the enactment of the law was needed most.
“Advocacy should be multi-faceted. Tell people if Zimbabwe stops, faith-based groups, boreholes will not come,” he said.
Government has led bitter relations with local NGOs it accuses of aiding an alleged Western plot to remove the current Zanu PF led administration in place of the main opposition viewed more pliant to Western dictates.