BY SYDNEY KAWADZA
Zimbabwe’s main opposition MDC Alliance has condemned the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill gazetted last Friday calling the draft legislation unconstitutional, draconian and undemocratic.
The government gazetted the PVO Amendment Bill that would see leaders of NGOs funding political parties or candidates facing up to a year in prison for violating the law.
The amendments, including an addition to Section 10 of the Act, also seek to bar NGO from supporting or opposing any political party or candidate in Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections.
The NGOs “violating” this provision would be guilty of an offence and handed a Level 12 penalty or face imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both.
A Level 12 fine exceeds $30 000 and is imposed at the courts.
The proposed legislation also targets foreign organisations that solicit funds for political parties in breach of the Political Parties Finance Act.
MDC-A spokesperson Fadzai Mahere told The Standard that the proposed law should have no place in a country that is bound by the principles of freedom, fairness and constitutionalism.
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“The PVO Bill confirms that the regime is in panic mode and its solution to the bad governance and legitimacy crisis is to stifle democratic freedoms as we approach 2023,” Mahere said.
“The Bill comes against the backdrop of the stifling of political space, the persecution, arbitrary arrests and detention of opposition leaders and a deepening political and economic crisis.”
Mahere said the proposed Bill infringed on sections 58, 62 and 67 of the constitution among other laws as it violated the rights to freedom of association, free expression and the right to challenge government in groups as guaranteed in the Supreme law.
“The Bill allocates too much power to the minister, which has the potential to be abused and weaponised especially against NGOs that hold government to account and work in the spheres of good governance, electoral reform and human rights.
“The Bill draws an unsupportable link between civic society organisations and terrorism as well as criminalising the administration of NGOs.
“ It does not bode well for the freedom to associate, freedom of opinion and belief and the right to challenge any cause propounded by government, which is enshrined in section 6 of the constitution.
“The Bill limits basic freedoms in a manner that is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society that is founded on openness, constitutionalism and an adherence to the basic norms of good governance.”
The MDC-Alliance, according to Mahere, called the elimination of the requirements that NGOs register annually and pay an annual registration fee.
“We also call for the imposition of time limits to expedite decisions on registration and de-registration,” she said.
“Organisations that do not receive a decision on their registration request by a specific period should be deemed to be officially registered.”
The MDC-Alliance also called for the creation of an appeals procedure to an independent administrative body to enable the impartial adjudication of appeals against the decisions of the minister and the NGO Council.
“Criminal liability for statutory offences that improperly infringe upon fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of association and expression must be removed,” she said.
“The MDC-Alliance calls for the removal of provisions that deny local organisations whose purposes include ‘issues of governance’ access to foreign funding and that prohibit the registration of foreign NGOs involved in “issues of governance”.
It also demanded the creation of an independent NGO council whose mandate would include promoting a more positive climate between government and NGOs.
“The minister should have no power to control appointments to the NGO council. NGOs should have input into the selection of the council and they should be fairly represented thereon,” she said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said it was unfortunate that government was exhibiting an insatiable appetite to punish or block any dissenting voices in Zimbabwe.
“You look at the deployment of the law to secure political means,” Rusero said.
“The idea here is not necessarily rule of law but rule by law where you are deploying the law not specifically to seek the end or means of justice but to settle political scores,” he said.
Rusero said the Bill was part of government’s grand strategy to all the political space, be it, for nongovernmental organisation, political parties or the civic society organisations.