November 26, 2004

NGOs get 6-month reprieve

The government has given Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) a six-month grace period to regularise their operations once the controversial NGOs Bill is passed by parliament. The latest development comes amid claims in the NGO sector that government has targeted 15 organisations for closure. The NGOs reportedly on government’s hit list include the Zimbabwe Civil Education Trust, Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Combined Harare Residents Association, Crisis in Zimbabwe, Humanistic Institute of Development Co-operation with Developing Countries, National Constitutional Assembly, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Liberators Platform, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Amani Trust, Zimbabwe NGO Human Rights Forum, Bulawayo Agenda and Women of Zimbabwe Arise. Government has however dismissed the allegations that its Bill on the registration, regulation and funding of NGOs is target-specific. Public Service and Social Welfare minister Paul Mangwana said although the Bill was silent on the period NGOs should take to align their operations with the law, those that were operating legally would be given time to adjust to the new legislation. "Organisations that were already legally operating under the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act or as registered trusts have got six months to regularise their operations. That list (of 15 NGOs targeted) is not true because that is just speculation," he said. "We are not targeting anybody. If those organisations by their virtue deal with human rights organisations, they fall under this category but they are not targeted at all," Mangwana said.
The proposed legislation will repeal the PVO Act and seeks to make it illegal for NGOs involved in issues of governance, such as voter education, 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, analysts complain. This includes the critical area of food distribution. Director of the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (Nango) Jonah Mudehwe said he was aware the government was targeting particular institutions but would not name them. "The minister has been very open that there are some NGOs which are targeted, particularly those involved in issues of governance and human rights. Unfortunately I cannot say anything on that particular list," Mudehwe said. On Wednesday, legislators referred the NGOs Bill to the Parliamentary Legal Committee for assessment after MDC MPs objected to some of its causes. (ZWNews / Zimbabwe Independent)

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