CSO’s demand fresh consultations on PVO Bill

Review & Mail Writers

Civic Society Organisations (CSO’s) have demanded fresh consultations on the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill, arguing that the amendments that were subjected to the second reading on 26 July 2022 extensively revised the Bill, introducing new provisions that were not there when the Bill was taken for public hearings.

In a statement dated July 27, 2022, the CSO’s said the consultation processes that were conducted in relation to the original draft of the Bill were conducted in bad faith, noting that their concerns were disregarded entirely. Of association and administrative justice.

They said the amendments which were now before parliament introduced even stricter restrictions to the rights to freedom have been entirely disregarded, with the proposed amendments introducing even greater restrictions to the rights to freedom of association and administrative justice.

“The Bill that was presented to the public has now been altered significantly and must be taken back to the public for consultations as mandated by the Constitution. Without this, the public’s due process and constitutional rights have been violated,” they said.

The CSO’s said the public’s constitutional right to participate in law making had been violated, adding that the authorities had a constitutional obligation to consider the views of the public in terms of section 141 of the Constitution.

“Parliament is required to facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes and in the processes of its committees, and Parliament must conduct its business in a transparent manner. The proposed Bill, as amended, will have dire consequences of restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe. Under the circumstances, CSOs call for the withdrawal of the Bill, and the initiation of a comprehensive process of fresh consultations to be held with the public and CSOs on a new draft Bill that will protect citizens’ fundamental rights,” they said.

The CSO’s said Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi, as the leader of Government Business in Parliament, had acted in bad faith when he engaged with them on 11 April 2022, giving them the false hope that they had found each other.

“However, to the utter shock and surprise of CSOs, the amendments that have now been introduced do the very opposite of what the Minister had promised and committed to. The extensive amendments to the PVO Amendment Bill are even more draconian and tantamount to introducing a completely new Bill. This removes the participatory element of our democracy (that citizens are entitled to), protected in section 141 of the Constitution, as such extensive alterations to the Bill were not privy to public hearings and public consultations,” they said.

They bemoaned the removal from the Bill of the PVO Board and creation of an executive and powerful office of a Registrar of PVOs vested with all decision-making powers to register or deny registration to applicants for PVO status.

“A Private Voluntary Organisations Forum entirely controlled by the Registrar of PVOs is also created, with an unclear purpose but with the potential to be used to gather information from PVOs, monitor them and reach resolutions that will impact on the work of PVOs,”

The CSO’s said new principles governing PVOs were also introduced, including requiring PVOs to ascertain the identity of donors and sources of donations; to refuse and report any donations from “illegitimate” or “immoral” sources; prohibiting fundraising for charitable purposes by anyone not registered as a PVO or authorised under the Act to do so; among others.

“There is imposition of harsh criminal and civil penalties for vaguely defined offences, including on executive committee members and personnel of PVOs. PVOs are guilty of “civil default” on vague grounds, violating administrative justice rights. The amendments have maintained provisions allowing for the Minister to unilaterally designate organisations as being at “high risk” of money laundering and counter-terrorism abuses and impose specific measures on them, with appeals to the High Court only allowed on procedural grounds and no rights for the High Court to overturn the decision, only to refer it back to the Minister,”.

There have been heated debate around the introduction of the Bill, with CSO’s and opposition political parties claiming it was a ploy by the government to curtail citizens’ freedoms ahead of the harmonised elections slated for next year.

Government has, however, maintained that the Bill was necessary to curb possible terrorism and to keep CSO’s with a regime change agenda on check.

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