Parly Committee endorses new law

Albert Chavhunduka

The Parliamentary Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has endorsed the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill after ending its Public Hearings and Consultations, effectively closing debate on the thorny issue.

The Bill has been the subject of hot contestation as Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) have been strongly opposed to its passing, arguing it posed a significant risk to civic space in Zimbabwe.

Debates have been raging since it was gazetted in Parliament last year seeking to amend the PVO Act (17:05) and align it with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

If adopted, as is widely expected, the amended law would provide the government with wide powers to monitor the governance and activities of civil society organisations in the country.

CSO’s however, have been arguing that the Bill gives too much power to the Executive to control and interfere with the work of NGOs and increases the surveillance and monitoring of NGOs and HRDs.

But chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Emma Ncube said based on the views of the majority participants who attended consultation meetings and public hearings on the Bill, there was need to regulate and keep in check some PVOs operating in the country and called for a quick implementation of the new provisions of the Bill.

Public hearings and consultations on the Bill were conducted at 14 different venues across the country’s 10 provinces from 28 February to 4 March 2022 and also on other virtual platforms which included radio.

Presenting a report of the Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare on public consultations on the PVO Amendment Bill which were conducted in collaboration with other development partners, Ncube said the committee was urging  government to swiftly implement provisions of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill (H.B 10, 2021) once it was passed by Parliament and the President, saying it was a tool to promote harmony, unity and the development of Zimbabwe.

“The Portfolio Committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare exhorts the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in conjunction with other government departments to expeditiously implement provisions of the Bill, once passed by Parliament and ascended to by the President. Stakeholders at all levels are also encouraged to  abide by the law at all times in order to promote harmony, unity and the development of Zimbabwe,” she said.

“Some members of the public supported the Bill stating that PVOs need to be regulated at a higher level since some of them abuse funds from donors for personal gain. It was highlighted that as long as PVOs operate in good faith, sticking to their mandate and transparency they would never be adversely affected by the new amendments.

“In addition, it was noted that good supervision of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) was necessary to stop them from meddling in politics, in particular by supporting political parties. Furthermore, it was noted that some PVOs were diluting the local culture which resulted in moral decadence, hence there was need for regulation. Finally, the Bill was applauded as it sought to curb terrorism which had profoundly affected some countries socio-economically, including those on the continent.”

Ncube, however, noted that there were mixed reactions from other participants and interested stakeholders which included Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who were not in support of the Bill.

“Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) expressed reservations on the enactment of the Bill in its current form into law. There was a general sentiment that current laws adequately regulate PVOs in terms of accountability and curbing money laundering,” she said.

“It was also highlighted that the proposed amendments would paralyse civic engagement, compromise independence of PVOs in their operations, especially on advocacy work in line with Constitution. An increase in bureaucratic layers could create room for corruption due to excessive powers granted to administrative authorities.

“This could result in the hiking of registration fees beyond the reach of many. Furthermore, it was noted that the Bill reverses the spirit of devolution as it centralizes powers in the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and violates freedom of association as enshrined in Section58 of the Constitution.”

She said other stakeholders also criticized the Bill for vesting too much power on the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare which was deemed to hinder the idea of devolution in Zimbabwe.

“Stakeholders highlighted that the Bill vested too much power in the Minister which reversed the spirit of devolution and may lead to mis-governance and corruption. It was noted that the Clause bestowed upon the Minister unfettered powers to interfere in the internal management of PVOs. A proposal was made to place these powers on the PVOs Board instead or to make use of readily available institutions such as the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission to deal with transparency issues,” said Ncube.

“However, some members of the public supported the clause as it empowered the Minister to ensure that PVOs stick to their mandates and do not engage in maladministration. This was in view of the notion that some PVOs diverted their mandates and without regulation this may disturb the peace, order and good governance of the country.”

Under the new law, one of the conditions for the registration of PVO’s in the country is that they disclose their sources of foreign funding, be subjected to financial scrutiny and conduct mandatory audits to see if the funds they receive are used for their intended purposes for which they were registered. 

Other recommendations by the Committee

•             The close involvement of the Office of Registrar in the operations of PVOs as the regulatory authority.

•             The cancellation of a certificate or license of any PVO that deliberately fails to stick to its mandate or participate in politics.

•             That government Ministries in collaboration with Parliament translate all Bills and Acts into the sixteen languages stipulated in Section 6 of the Constitution to facilitate understanding and effective participation by all stakeholders in the law- making process by December 2022.

•             Parliament in collaboration with other stakeholders intensify educational and publicity campaigns on Bills, public hearings and other programmes in both urban and rural areas.

•             The Administration of Parliament must make sure all public hearings venues are paid for in advance in order to avoid inconveniences.

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