In a bid to stop President Lazarus Chakwera from assenting to the NGO Bill recently passed by Parliament, civil society organisations (CSOs) have penned Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee seeking an audience.
The group argues that unless the glaring concerns in the Bill are addressed, its good intentions may be rendered nugatory.
A letter addressed to the committee’s chairperson Peter Dimba, dated April 24 2022 and signed by Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) chairperson Gift Trapence and National Advocacy Platform chairperson Benedicto Kondowe states that if assented into law, the Bill will significantly restrict and undermine operations of the NGO community in the country.
Reads the letter: “While the Bill has some positives, it also contains several problematic provisions that could limit NGOs’ ability to operate and fully exercise their fundamental freedoms. Notably, the Bill imposes serious limitations to constitutional freedoms, including freedom of association and political rights.”
In an interview yesterday, Dimba confirmed receipt of the letter and said a date will be set to hear the group’s concerns.
He said: “We will listen to them and take note of their concerns. Otherwise a committee like ours cannot undo what Parliament has done.”
The letter comes barely a week after HRDC also wrote President Lazarus Chakwera to seek an audience with him on the same concerns.
Chakwera is yet to respond to the letter, according to Trapence.
Last week, Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network also wrote Chakwera on the issue and faulted the passing of the Bill which, among others, makes their registration compulsory prohibits them from politicking and electioneering, and has unreasonable imposition of sanctions on them.
Three weeks ago some CSOs in the country also urged Chakwera not to assent to the Bill arguing it is aimed at gagging their operations.
The Bill, which was passed last month, also defines roles of NGO Board and Council for Non-governmental Organisations besides demanding accountability for funds.
In an earlier interview Youth and Society executive director Charles Kajoloweka observed that the Bill does not pass the constitutional test and violates fundamental rights and freedoms particularly freedom of association, freedom of assembly and other related rights.
Said Kajoloweka: “We have a government that is a product of an independent Judiciary and a vibrant civil society, but today the Tonse Alliance are in power and attacking the Judiciary by undermining decisions of the court.
“The government is undermining and attacking the CSOs that gave them a springboard into power. If it was not for active civil society these people could not have been in power today.”
Deputy Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Agnes Nkusa-Nkhoma who tabled the Bill in the House told legislators that the amended law will bring sanity in NGO operations.