Activists lobby Malawi parliament against NGO bill

Officials from Human Rights Defenders Coalition say they have successfully lobbied parliament against tabling the infamous NGO bill which they describe as draconian aimed at muzzling the vibrant civil society organisations.

Kabwila: The Bill has to be refined, I cant support it in its present form

Chairman of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) Timothy Mtambo said the activists met parliamentary committee chairpersons on Thursday in Lilongwe who agreed to block the tabling of the bill.

“In a democracy like this one, the government cannot just ambush us with the bill like that one, this is why we engaged the parliamentary committee chairpersons and they all agreed with us that this bill should not be tabled,” he said.

But Leader of the House Kondwani Nankhumwa said it was too late to block it from being tabled, saying the activists could have done so before it appeared on the order paper.

As it stands now, the government has more members of parliament in parliament who can easily push for the bill to be enacted even without the opposition.

Earlier, the activists said they would go to court to block the implementation of the bill should government table it in the National Assembly and parliament passes it.

Gift Trapence, vice chairman of Human Rights Defenders said the law is draconian and can only fit in one party system of government set up not in a democratic Malawi.

“In this era, we cannot have such a law, we will not allow it to be implemented in Malawi,” said Trapence.

Among others, the bill provides that the NGO Board will now be turned into a commission whose members will be appointed by a cabinet minister.

Currently, NGOs elect members to the board.

The bill also provides that the current penalty for NGOs who flout the law be raised from K50, 000 to K15 million.

Over 400 NGOs from all over the world have since asked the government to withdraw the bill and make proper consultations before tabling it.

Legislators Lucious Banda from Balaka north (UTM) and Jessie Kabwila of Salima north west (MCP) say they will vote against the bill should the government bring it in this meeting of parliament.

There has been animosity between the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) led government and civil society groups on a number of issues, including the government’s decision to stop peaceful protests.

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