By Rebecca Chimjeka:
Council for Non- Governmental Organisations (Congoma) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) have petitioned Speaker of the National Assembly Richard Msowoya not to allow government to table the NGO Amendment Bill before their proposed amendments are taken into consideration.
Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) last week expressed concern over the NGO Amendment Bill which, among others, seeks to amend the NGO Act by establishing an authority which aims at tightening the noose for CSOs.
In the petition that has been endorsed by over 40 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including the Public Affairs Committee (Pac), the organisations do not want the bill to be tabled in Parliament as it is not a product of a thorough, inclusive and democratic process of consultation
Signed by Congoma Chairperson Steven Duwa and his HRDC counterpart Timothy Mtambo, the letter says all processes around law reform or review around NGO Act and other NGO-related laws should be spearheaded by an independent constitutional body such as the Law Commission.
The two bodies have outlined seven recommendations that Parliament should consider before the bill is introduced in the House.
They say the NGO Amendment Bill should include seats to be occupied by members of the NGO Sector in the proposed NGO Authority. In addition, all appointments by the minister (excluding the permanent ex-officials) should be done in direct consultation with Congoma.
The petition says such appointments should further be approved by Parliament through Public Appointments Committee.
“Remove imposition of criminal responsibility on individual trustees and directors as this is the responsibility of the Courts to remove corporate veil and the Amendment Act should further clearly stipulate which infractions of the Act are criminal offences and that petty infractions should not be subject of criminal sanctions,” reads part of the recommendations.
The petition says the requirement of mandatory registration with NGO Board should be removed as it is in conflict with freedom of association.
However, the petition has outlined some of the positives that have been included in the bill which include requirement that members of the proposed NGO Regulatory Authority should have relevant expertise and experience and consideration of gender and social inclusion in making appointments into the proposed NGO Regulatory Authority by ensuring that at least half of the appointees are women and also taking into account the provisions of the Disability Act.
Mzimba West Member of Parliament Harry Mkandawire confirmed to have received the petition and said he has since delivered the petition to the office of the Speaker and Leader of Opposition.