NGO Act inimical to NGO, CSOs’ existence – ZCEA

ZAMBIA Civic Education Association executive director Judith Mulenga says the NGO Act in its current form is inimical to NGO and CSOs’ existence and mandate.

Mulenga said ZCEA’s position has not changed; the Act must be repealed.

The government embarked on a process of regulating CSOs with a view that some were neither following their mandates nor using resources on intended beneficiaries.

However, before this, NGOs in 1999 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 said to be highly contentious.

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

In 2009, the government 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 existing legal status of some organisations, was ultra vires in that it specified the thematic nature of CSO as well as geographical areas they should operate in, was against the Kigali Declaration which calls for state parties to create a conducive environment for CSOs, and violated the Republican constitution in terms of Freedom of Association.

In their three presentations, it was shared 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, through a prescribed form, for 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 before the National Assembly.

Mulenga said what got ZCEA involved in the case was the threat by the government to start deregistering CSOs and NGOs if not registered under the NGO Act and yet the other registration legislations such as PACRA or Societies Act were not repealed.

“The revised Bill is at zero draft. Until the first and final Bill reflects having taken care of the concerns that we had when we took government to court, our position will remain the same. The Act in its current form is inimical to our existence and mandate of NGOs. The current Act seeks to turn NGOs in Zambia into governmental NGOs. The case was withdrawn without prejudice with the option to reactivate the case if the process of repealing hits a deadlock. So far so good on the repealing though ZCEA has not been actively involved,” she said.

Mulenga said the case withdrawal was premised on the government leaving CSOs and NGOs alone until the Act was amicably repealed.

“In fact, we existed very well before the Act was enacted and we have continued to do so after the withdrawal of the case,” said Mulenga.

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