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New bill to squeeze CSOs

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By Serah Makondetsa:

Civil society organisations (CSOs) have expressed concern over Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Amendment Bill of 2018 which, among others, seeks to amend the NGO Act by establishing an authority which aims at tightening the noose around the neck of CSOs.

A Malawi Gazette supplement dated November 9 2018 containing a bill which Malawi News has seen reveals that the bill would strengthen the role that the current NGO Board plays in regulating NGOs in the country.

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“The bill seeks to achieve this by removing the reference to a non-statutory established institution the Council for Non-Governmental O rganisations (Congoma) and allow the membership of that organisation to become voluntary.

 “The bill further removes all statutory responsibilities of Congoma and rightly places those responsibilities under the board,” reads part of the bill.

Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Chairperson Timothy Mtambo said the introduction of this law by the government is repressive and the objective is to infringe the civic space.

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Mtambo argued that the bill renders CSOs powerless to engage, to advocate change and fight for the betterment of the citizen further saying the organisations were not consulted on the matter.

“This is an effort to shrink citizen’s voice to demand accountability from the government, this is a repressive law that is against the constitutional and international best practices of NGO laws.

“There is no way they would come up with an amendment to an existing law without doing thorough consultations with the stakeholders involved. The HRDC will be meeting with the entire NGO community, we are going to work with Congoma to ensure that this does not take place,” he said.

The bill further states that government will appoint people into NGO Regulating Authority which will comprise 11 members.

“The NGO Act is amended by deleting the definition of board and replacing it with Authority. The Authority shall consist of 11 members who shall be citizens of Malawi and appointed by the minister,” reads part of the bill.

HRDC Vice-Chairperson Gift Trapence faulted government for putting in place a provision of the minister to be the appointee of members of the authority.

“In this law, they want government to appoint people into the NGO Regulating Authority. It means they can even appoint party zealots. NGO Board should be appointed by NGO members only just like it is with the case of the Malawi Human Rights Commission,” he said.

But Minister of Information Henry Mussa said he is not aware if government is going to table the bill.

“I have no knowledge that government has plans to table NGO Bill. All I know is that the four weeks Parliament is going to be meeting, we are going to debate some of the bills that were left from last meeting,” he said.

However, while referring the matter to Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Cecilia Chazama, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu, said government is not targeting anyone arguing consultations on the matter were done.

“What I can say is there was a lot of consultation. We consult them sometimes as a group, so if others were not consulted as individuals, they should not think there was no consultation. As a matter of fact, there is no law that is made without consultation, consultation is always part of the process.

“There is no intention to silence anybody but to make them accountable, they do things in the name of Malawians, so we want them to account for that,” he said.

Minister of Local Government Kondwani Nankhumwa, who is also Leader of the House, could not come out clear as to whether the bill will be discussed during the next Parliament meeting scheduled for Monday.

“We haven’t received the bill yet, when it comes to the Business Committee, we will see how to go about it but, as of now, we do not have it. However, we got a notice that we will have new bills, so we will just wait and see,” he said.

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