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Civil society has a legitimate role to hold govt accountable – NGOCC

IT is both in the interest of the civil society organisations and the Zambians to have the NGO Act repealed, says Non-governmental Gender Organisations’ Coordinating Council (NGOCC) communication, advocacy and networking unit coordinator Whitney Mulobela.

Mulobela said the government and civil society commissioned a compatibility study which validated fears of NGOs that the Act in its current form was unconstitutional.

He said the compatibility study that was undertaken by an independent consultant engaged by both the government and civil society agreed with the NGO position that the NGO Act in its current position was counterproductive as it goes against the letter and spirit of the Republican constitution.

He said among others, the NGO Act gives power to the government to prescribe the geographic areas where NGOs would operate, negating the freedom association as enshrined in the constitution.

Further, according to Mulobela, the NGO act was restrictive of the growth of the sector because of the onerous registration process it prescribes.

He said it was agreed that there was need to repeal the Act and so far the Ministry of Community Development had shown some goodwill towards in that respect.

“We can only hope that they can expedite this process. The Patriotic Front then in opposition, when you look at their party manifesto on page 42, they clearly enunciated and they agreed with us that they would repeal this NGO Act. Now we are not only appealing to have this NGO Act repealed just for the sake of it but it is a recognition that we as civil society see as our role as complimenting the government’s efforts in the provision of services and also for advocacy organisations. Our role in terms of playing our watchdog role on the government, you will know that in a democracy like ours, civil society has a legitimate role to hold government accountable on behalf of the voiceless so this is the role that must be promoted and not tightened which the NGO Act was doing,” he said.

“Further, I think it is a law that restricts or further restricts the civil space and it is in the interest of the government of Zambia to ensure that this law is repealed and quickly we move on to have a new law in place which will promote self-regulation and the growth of civil society in Zambia because it is great for democracy, it’s good for development and it’s good for the country and the people of Zambia.”

Mulobela said civil society helps the government to provide services.

He said there were NGOs that keep and ensure that the government becomes more efficient and more transparent and it was in both the interest of the CSOs and the Zambian people to have this law reformed.

Mulobela said all NGOs were actually concerned because the Act affects the operations of NGOs and CSOs.

“A reminder to our colleagues is that they need to keenly follow this process because it affects how they operate and when meetings are called, they should all be part and parcel of them. We are all amenable to the document that will come out of the process,” he said.

Government had embarked on a process of regulating CSOs, believing that some CSOs were neither following their mandates nor using resources for the intended beneficiaries. However, in 1999, NGOs developed a voluntary Code of Conduct to promote self-regulation and professional conduct.

In 2004, the government came up with the NGO Bill, which was highly contentious.

As consultations were going on, CSOs felt the Bill was not favourable to the NGOs.

In 2009, government enacted the Bill despite protests from CSOs. The Act is being implemented by the Ministry of Community Development under a new department called Registrar of NGOs.

However, ten CSOs, namely ZCSD, NGOCC, YALI, FODEP, WILDAF, WLSA, Operation Young Vote and Zambia Civic Education Association, Transparency International Zambia and Action Aid challenged the law and sued the Attorney General arguing among others that the Act that did not recognise the existing legal status of other organisations, was ultra vires in that it specified the thematic nature of CSO as well as geographical areas they should operate in, which was against the Kigali Declaration which calls for state parties to create a conducive environment for CSOs.

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