DIVISIONS have emerged over the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill, which, if promulgated into law, will cut off donor funding to local civic groups involved in democratic awarene
Some NGOs who met last Friday to discuss the Bill wanted to lobby Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) heads of state meeting in Mauritius later this month to dissuade government from the move. Others urged consultations with government.
Brian Kagoro, a consultant who was hired by the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) to provide a critique on the Bill, said that there was a need for Nango to lobby Sadc heads of state in Mauritius.
“I personally believe that in Mauritius Nango should make its presence felt. In a few days’ time strategies should have been made, but there has to be representation in Mauritius,” he said.
“I don’t think we will get anything from government but let’s keep lines of communication with them open.”
The proposed legislation, which will repeal the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, makes it illegal for NGOs involved in issues of governance to receive foreign funding.
The Bill will also outlaw the registration of foreign NGOs whose “sole or principal objects involve or include issues of governance”.
The proposed law will have a huge bearing on the ability of affected NGOs to operate since most of them are foreign-funded, critics complain.
Civic groups likely to be affected include Crisis Coalition, Human Rights Trust of Southern Africa, Transparency International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. In the Bill, civic groups dealing with media rights and advocacy are not covered under the definition of a non-governmental organisation.
Legal experts said this could be deliberate so those organisations like the Media Institute of Southern Africa and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe are denied foreign funding.
Another NGO activist who represented people living with Aids was of the opinion that people should negotiate with the government, something which did not go down well with Lovemore Madhuku from the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA).
“It is possible to negotiate with the government but I know they want to resort to divide and rule using this Bill. That’s the purpose,” he said.
“We may not continue to be together because some Zanu PF-related NGOs will not be monitored as they would the NCA for example.
Organisations from where I come from would be targeted,” Madhuku said.
If promulgated into law the Bill will virtually cut off aid to NGOs that deal with issues such as Aids, media advocacy and women’s and children’s rights, since these also relate to governance and human rights.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Arnold Tsunga yesterday warned that the government could use Section 2 of the Bill to close down NGOs.
“Given that the universally accepted perception of human rights is broad enough to cover civil and political as well as economic and cultural rights, it is clear that the government could ban any foreign funding for any disliked NGO using this provision if the Bill is promulgated into law,” Tsunga said.
The proposed Bill also creates an NGO council that is composed of five civil society representatives and nine government representatives, that are all appointed by and at the discretion of the Minister of Public Service.
Once enacted into law the Bill will enable government to investigate finances and resources of NGOs.
The government can order NGOs which get funding from outside the country illegally to repatriate the funds or the state may take possession of money, securities or property and pay it into a Guardian’s Fund. The NGOs can also be dissolved.
At the end of last week’s meeting a task force was formed that would deal with mobilisation both at the international and regional stage.
Another group was formed for constitutional challenge and community mobilisation. However, other people who attended the meeting were of the opinion that there must be people who should be responsible for mobilisation at the local level.