CSOs petition parliament over NGO Act

Some civil society organisations (CSOs) have petitioned Parliament, asking that the Non-Governmental Organisations (Amendment) Act, 2018 should not be tabled because it is not a product of a thorough, inclusive and democratic process of consultation.

Through the Council for Non-Governmental Orgnisations (Congoma) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), the CSOs argue that the Amendment is an unwarranted State encroachment on civic space, is vague and has overly broad provisions.

Duwa: It eliminates peaceful expression

They feel government, through the Amendment, is treating them like terrorists, yet they help the State in various development endeavours.

The petition, presented yesterday, argues that the Amendment Act creates a monster regulator and coordinator of NGOs in the proposed NGO Regulatory Authority, with absolute powers without accountability checks.

“It whittles down the role of Congoma–a registered trust—and grabs its registered mandate and transfers it to the proposed NGO Regulatory Authority. In other words, the Amendment Act spells the demise of CSO activism,” it reads in part.

Besides asking that the Amendment should not be tabled, the CSOs have also demanded that the Amendment Act should include seats to be occupied by members of the NGO sector in the proposed NGO Authority.

They further demand that the role of Congoma, as an NGO coordinating body, should be retained, arguing, the proposed Regulatory Authority cannot represent and promote the collective interests and concerns of NGOs because it is a government entity.

The CSOs also question Capital Hill’s logic in introducing a K15 million fine and imprisonment for seven years of a director or trustee for breach of the Act.

“Remove imposition of criminal responsibility on individual trustees and directors as this is the responsibility of the courts to remove the corporate veil. The Amendment Act should further clearly stipulate which infractions of the Act are criminal offences, and that petty infractions should not be subject of criminal sanctions,” highlights the petition.

Congoma chairperson Steven Duwa said the Amendment eliminates the path for the citizenry to peacefully express dissent, hold government accountable for human rights violations and access human development initiatives.

On his part, HRDC chairperson Timothy Mtambo wondered why government was treating CSOs as ‘terrorists’, with the many issues introduced in the Act to restrict the civic space.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu could not be reached for comment, but Information and Communications Technology (ICT) counterpart, Henry Mussa wondered why the CSOs want to block the Bill.

He said: “What is it that has been added behind their backs that is agitating them to want to stop the whole process? Within Parliament there is a committee responsible for NGOs and the best thing is when the Bill is tabled, let it be referred to the committee which will invite the NGOs for their input.”

The petition was received at at Parliament by Dowa North East legislator, Sam Kawale of Malawi Congress Party (MCP).

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