The government intends to amend the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Act, a move that will restrict people working in the sector from engaging in active politics.
The Bill, which was gazetted on February 25 2022, also seeks to change the NGO Board into an Authority and also remove the requirement that NGOs have to register with Council for NGOs in Malawi (Congoma) before registering with the board.
It further intends to create a provision that will require the Authority to comply with Public Audit Act, Public Finance Management Act and Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Act requirements.
The other proposed change pertains to the authority’s financial year which, if the Bill is enacted into law, will have to be aligned with that of the Central Government.
The Bill further proposes to amend Section 23(v) of the NGOs Act to include “a declaration that management and staff of the NGO shall not engage in partisan politics, including electioneering and politicking”.
The amendment, according to the Bill— which The Daily Times has seen— also seeks to remove functions of Congoma from the Act in recognition of the fact that Congoma is a non-State actor whose functions should not be in statutes.
“Further with respect to the role of Congoma and operations of NGOs, the bill proposes that [stakeholders must] streamline the registration process of NGOs by the Authority by removing the requirement for NGOs to register with Congoma before being registered by the Authority.
“Repeal provisions subjecting the Authority to oversight by the Congoma General Assembly in order to promote independence and professionalism of the Authority,” the Bill reads.
The government argues that the move to amend the NGO Act is meant to incorporate recent developments in the NGOs sector, enhance the role and independence of the governing board, streamline operations of the board, promote corporate governance of the board, streamline registration of NGOs and strengthen the reporting framework for NGOs.
However, Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Gift Trapence said the Bill could not be tabled now as there was a court injunction on the same.
“Parliament should not table the Bill until issues we raised are resolved. What I know is that the court order is still in place,” Trapence said.
He claimed that the government intended to use the authority to stifle dissenting views from NGOs while killing Congoma by making membership with the umbrella body voluntary.
“The NGO law is problematic as it has some sections that are aimed at shrinking the civic space.
“This is targeting institutions that work on governance and accountability. This is aimed at silencing NGOs that are critical to the government. We would also like to remind the Tonse Alliance-led administration that there is already an injunction which Cedep [Centre for the Development of People], CHRR [Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation] and Yas [Youth and Society] obtained. It stops Parliament from discussing the bill. The injunction is still intact. If Parliament brings back the bill, we will instruct our lawyers to institute contempt of court proceedings on this issue,” he said.
Congoma Board chairperson Kosamu Munthali said the Bill has some areas that need to be reviewed before it is passed.
“We have been discussing with government our expectations, and it is surprising that some clauses we asked government to remove are still appearing, As NGOs we will be meeting on Tuesday to map the way forward. We are asking members not to enact the law until our input is heard,” he said. The Bill is listed on the Order Paper, an outline of business to be tackled in the National Assembly.
Yas, CHRR and Cedep obtained injunction pending judicial review on December 18, 2018.
The Bill is under the custody of the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.