August 28, 2003

NGOs repeat call for NGO act to be reviewed

Non-governmental organisations in Tanzania have reiterated their calls for the 2002 NGO Act to be amended, saying that it is restrictive and allows for too much governmental control. Legal and human rights organisations followed suit, saying that while the 2001 NGO Policy reflected the government's recognition of NGOs as partners, the 2002 Act does not create a favourable environment within which these organisations can work.

"There are many gaps in the act and we are demanding that the government makes these changes so NGOs can operate in a suitable environment," Nestor Mabwe, a programme officer with the Tanzanian Association of NGOs, told IRIN. "The law controls them rather than lets them act democratically and the result is that the people these organisations help will feel the impact of these restrictions," he said.

He was speaking at the closing of the 2003 NGO Forum in the Tanzanian commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. NGOs from across the country gathered for the three-day forum last week to discuss the Act that was signed in November 2002, as well as other issues. They said that ever since the liberalisation of Tanzania in the early 1990's, NGOs had blossomed nationwide. There are between 6,000 and 13,000 NGOs in Tanzania.

The Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) in Dar es Salaam said there was a general lack of understanding among parliamentarians of how NGOs work and that there has also been a lack of a participatory process in the drafting of the bill. "There is a lot of distrust between the government and the NGOs," Ezekiel Massanja, an officer at the LHRC, told IRIN on Wednesday. "Also, we weren't given the time to discuss it [the Act] with many organisations and there was certainly no need to rush it through as the government did."

He said many parliamentarians were convinced that NGOs existed merely to make money. Therefore, the LHRC decided to try and sensitise civil society and, in particular, parliamentarians, so that they could make "informed decisions" with regard to NGOs. In July, NGOs detailed their complaints about the cumbersome registration process and lack of clarity in the act. However, the government said that it recognised the important role of NGOs and was open to discussion. It said the act was intended to facilitate reporting of NGO activities. "We are not trying to control them, nor are we going to interfere in the running of their affairs. We just want them to be open and transparent," Marcel Katemba, the government's director of NGOs, said on Wednesday. (IRIN)

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