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House risks contempt over NGO Bill

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Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani Hara and Leader of the House Richard Chimwendo Banda risk arrest for contempt of court after Parliament Tuesday passed the Non-Governmental Organisations Amendment Bill despite the existence of a court stay order.

Three organisations— Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Youth and Society (Yas) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep)— obtained an injunction in 2018 restraining the two parties, or whosoever, from tabling or debating the bill until the courts made a determination on the issue.

In an interview Tuesday, CHRR, Yas and Cedep lawyer Wesley Mwafulirwa described the development as a crisis, saying some people may find themselves in prison.

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“It’s a bit of a crisis. I must be honest with you because it means that we have a law that has been passed when the court ordered that it shouldn’t be passed.

“It looks like a very small issue but we have a very serious issue before us,” he said

Speaking after passing the bill, NGO Board Chairperson Voice Mhone said the issue of the court order could best be handled by Attorney General (AG) Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda.

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“Overall, it is very exciting that the Bill has passed; it has been a long journey. We have worked together with civil society organisation, more especially Congoma; they are the most affected,” Mhone said.

Earlier yesterday, the three organisations wrote AG Nyirenda, cautioning him on the issue of tabling the bill.

CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa said the organisation would either engage President Lazarus Chakwera not to assent to the bill or file contempt of court proceedings against the Speaker and the AG.

With the amendment, the bill has given the NGO Board the mandate to register and regulate NGOs.

The development also means Congoma will be a collection of NGOs that will be regulated by the board.

Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Deputy Minister Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma said, after passing the bill, that what remained is for the ministry and Congoma to work hand-in-hand in making sure that there is transparency.

Nkusa Nkhoma said the new law requires all NGOs to register with the government and that the registration fee has been increased from K50 thousand to K5 million.

“We need to take charge of these NGOs. There are times they go to places without [the government] knowing what they are doing in the area. Most of them flock to one area instead of concentrating on other areas,” she said.

Once assented to, the piece of legislation will restrict people working in the NGO sector from participating in active politics, apart from turning the NGO Board into an Authority.

The amendment also intends to create a provision that would require the Authority to comply with provisions of the Public Audit Act, Public Finance Management Act and Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act.

Democratic Progressive Party speaker in Parliament Bright Msaka and that of United Democratic Front Lilian Patel supported the Bill, which, they said, would also enhance accountability on how NGOs use funds they source.

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