COUNCIL of the Non–Governmental Organisations in Zambia chairperson MacDonald Chipenzi says the NGO Act in its current form is a manipulative Act that pushes towards making CSOs and NGOs puppets of the government.
Chipenzi said the NGO Act was likely to be used to gag operations of the NGOs/CSOs or deregister them.
The government embarked on a process of regulating CSO, believing that some were neither following their mandates nor using resources for the intended purposes. This is against the backdrop that NGOs in 1999 developed a voluntary Code of Conduct to promote self-regulation and professional conduct.
But in 2004 the government came up with the NGO Bill, which was said to be highly contentious.
As consultations were going on, CSOs felt the Bill was not favourable to them. However, the government in 2009 enacted the Bill despite protests from various CSOs. The Act is being implemented by the Ministry of Community Development under a new department called Registrar of NGOs.
However, 10 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 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, and was against the Kigali Declaration which calls for state parties to create a conducive environment for CSO.
The organisations also feel the Act violates the Republican Constitution in terms of freedom of association.
In their three presentations, the CSOs have observed that the government has through the chief government spokesperson indicated readiness to table the NGO Bill before the June session of National Assembly and that the ZLDC had invited CSOs to provide submissions.
The process is at input stage from various stakeholders in the zero draft bill and further refinement by the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) before it is presented to the Ministry of Community Development and then Ministry of Justice, which will now have to present it in the National Assembly.
Chipenzi said there was need to have the Act repealed before the general elections in 2021.
He explained that the composition of the board was tilted towards the government.
“The chairperson and vice chairperson of the board of NGO Board are identified and appointed by a government minister. There are harsh sanctions which entail that if an NGO leader is convicted of any crime and sentenced to prison, his/her organisation is also deregistered. The board is empowered to choose the area of operations for NGOs in Zambia. The Board can register and deregister NGOs without the involvement of the Council of NGOs in Zambia. Council of NGOs in Zambia has a very limited role in the management of NGOs in Zambia but the Board is full of government officials,” he said.
Chipenzi said the NGO Act was likely to be used to gag the operations of the NGOs or deregister them.
“It is a manipulative Act and pushing towards making NGOs puppets of the government. It is good for those NGOs in service delivery and International NGOs. But for human rights, elections advocacy NGOs are in danger in their operations. So NGOs in this sector are in serious threat. In Uganda and Tanzania, for instance, this NGO Act has been used to silence NGOs in human rights and governance. The restrictions are too harsh in a democratic republic and also the insistence that all NGOs must be registered under this Act abrogates the NGOs’ right and freedom to association and expression,” he said. “Ahead of the elections, many NGOs may be denied their rights and freedoms to assemble on the pretext that they are anti-government hence our desire to repeal and replace the Act. The goodness is that there is consensus between the government and NGOs to repeal and replace the NGO Act No 16. Of 2009.”
Chipenzi said both the government and CSOs hoped the repeal of the NGO Act would be done before general elections next year.
He said this was demonstrated by Cabinet’s approval of the Bill among those to be tabled in the June session.
“As council of NGOs in Zambia, we are pushing hard that the drafters and the TWG expedite the drafting process so that we don’t lose the June session of Parliament. It is not really true that NGOs are not keen to the process. Our provincial consultations showed great enthusiasm to the process to date. International NGOs have also been supportive to the process. We ask for support from the media and other stakeholders to support the process of repeal and replacement the 2009 NGO Act so that an Act which is user-friendly to the NGO sector is birthed for today and future NGOs,” Chipenzi said.
He said CSOs and NGOs have not gone to sleep but were denied permits to assemble as demonstrated on September 29, 2019 during the budget presentation demonstrations which took place,
Chipenzi said the organisers of the meeting in Livingstone to discuss the issues of transparency and accountability in the budget utilisation process were arrested leading to the charging of activist Pilato with unlawful assembly and his detention.
“Efforts to secure his release led the arrest of those who had gone there; Bornwell Mwewa and Laura Miti. Platforms that these NGOs use to disseminate their messages continued to be closed and/or threatened to be closed e.g. Prime TV,” Chipenzi said.
He said the Congress of NGOs in Zambia gathered at Government Complex from Oct 9-11, 2018 and mandated the newly elected Council of NGOs in Zambia to spearhead the repeal and replacement of the NGO Act No.16 of 2009 and develop the Code of conduct for the NGOs.
Chipenzi said this code of conduct for the NGOs awaits the repeal and replacement of the NGO Act No. 16 of 2009.