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CSOs tussle with NGO Board

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Lilongwe-based civil society organisations (CSOs) have said the conduct of Non-governmental Organisations (NGO) Board shows that the board lacks necessary competence and skills to steer the ongoing NGO Policy development.

The CSOs, therefore, have written the NGO Board to utmost by Tuesday noon stop the policy development process or else the civil society groups “will take unspecified affirmative actions to force government to halt the process”.

In the letter signed by six CSOs on behalf of Lilongwe-based civil society organisations and read at the conference held on Sunday in Lilongwe, the CSOs raise concerns on the alleged uncharacteristic hide-and seek behaviour of the board during consultation meetings with the civil society on the policy and the supersonic speed in the development process of the same.

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The CSOs accuse the NGO Board of being used by government as one of its pieces of apparatus to suffocate the civil society’s operations and, in the process, democracy in the country.

“The current government has been vigilant to develop an NGO Policy which will help in the implementation of the Act that will regulate the NGOs in the country. However, as Lilongwe-based CSOs, we are worried about the speed the NGO Board has taken on the policy and unbecoming behaviour of the board whereby participants are invited to a meeting without clear documentation given to them.

“Our position is that Lilongwe CSOs were not consulted and we are suspicious that the policy is just one of old-age tactics employed by many dictatorial regimes across the world that this government wants to put in place to create difficult environment for CSOs to work in,” said Centre for the Development of People executive director, Gift Trapence.

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The letter, which is copied to Council for Non-governmental Organisations in Malawi (Congoma), United Nations Development Programme, Office of the President and Cabinet, and Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, cites the May 19, 2016 meeting as an epitome of poor coordination.

The meeting was characterised by poor organisation as evidenced by late start and lack of advance sharing of meeting documents for the policy formulation process, according to the letter.

“Despite the aforementioned issues, the meeting proceeded and the consultant presented what looks like a draft NGO Policy, despite the NGO Board declaring earlier that there is no policy in place yet,” the letter reads in part.

As part of the resolutions, the meeting demanded more time to review the documentation [presentation and background paper] and make submissions.

According to the letter, the following action points were agreed upon: NGO Board to circulate the presentation to all members by end of business on May 19, 2016; NGO Board to consult with the consultants to circulate the background paper; and CSOs to have one week to prepare their submissions and submit by May 27, 2016.

But as Lilongwe CSOs waited for the promised documentation from the board as promised, an email from Secretary for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Mary Shawa, was sent to the CSOs advising them that the board and NGO Policy Development Steering Committee, which Shawa chairs, were not sharing the policy documents because it is a skeleton and the other nine districts consulted have not been given the documents in advance.

But Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation(CHRR)executive director, Timothy Mtambo, said it is “contemptuous and outlandish that the entire NGO Board could host a consultative meeting and yet refuse to share the presentation with that audience but wants inputs from the same audience”.

Congoma Board chairperson, MacBain Mkandawire, in an interview said he is in total support of the CSOs’ move to halt the policy development process as NGO Board and Gender Ministry are monopolising the process yet the policy is the brainchild of Congoma.

“As an overseer of NGOs in the country, I was supposed to be consulted but I am a sidelined member. Congoma was supposed to be in the technical committee but we are not there. At a recent meeting in Salima, we raised concern on the engagement of a consultant, they promised to look into the issue, but as we were waiting for feedback, the consultant was already on the ground working, raising fears that they are hiding something,” Mkandawire said.

Shawa said, as a chairperson, she did not contribute to the consultation process, saying the CSOs themselves are responsible for the consultations.

“Government is not in the forefront of NGO Policy development process, it is the CSOs themselves, so the ultimatum is given to themselves as they could be looking for more time. The consultation process does not mean we have completed writing of the policy, it is a long process,” Shawa said.

She said she has called for a meeting on Tuesday where the CSOs can raise their concerns, adding if civil society groups have problems among themselves, they must learn not share with others.

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