Civil society organisations (CSOs) have been granted leave to apply for a judicial review stopping the tabling of NGO (Amendment) law in Parliament which they have accused the government of trying to rush through the “draconian” law ahead of next year’s elections aimed at muzzling criticism and stifling advocacy groups.
Accoridng to courts codument seen by Nyasa Times, the Judicial Review Case number 14 of 2018 at High Court registry in Lilongwe, the order has been obtained by Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Centre for Development of People (Cedep) and Youth and Society (YAS).
In granting the order, the High Court stated that Speaker of Parliament and Leader of the House are probihited from having the Bill tabled.
It said the Speaker and Leader of the House, who are defendants in the matter, are “restrained either by themselves, or theur agents or whosoever, from tabling or debating the NGO (Amendment) Bill in Parliament until a further Order of this court.”
CSOs and charities in Malawi have argued that the proposed legislation will give the government sweeping powers to interfere with the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) .
“It’s draconian,” Oxfam country director John Makina said. “We believe this is a way to silence criticism of the government. We’re concerned that advocacy organizations will not be able to operate.”
The bill creates a new government-appointed body to regulate NGOs, including international and local charities, rights organizations, grassroots groups and faith-based organizations.
Directors or trustees of NGOs which fail to comply face imprisonment of seven years. Fines will rise to 15 million kwacha ($20,800) from 50,000 kwacha under current law.
But critics said there was no clarity on what constituted non-compliance, leaving the law open to abuse and manipulation.
They feared the law could be used to shut down organizations that spoke out on issues such as corruption.
Gift Trapence, vice chairman of Human Rights Defenders said the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Amendment Bill of 2018 is draconian law and can only fit in one party dictatorship 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.
Governance expert Makhumbo Munthali also accused the NGO Board of being compromised and called for the need to reform the NGO Board in order to rescue it from the ruling party’s capture.
“We cannot be talking about enhancing the oversight role of NGO Board without first looking at the issue of independence of the NGO Board. It is a fact that one of the reasons why some NGOs don’t register with the NGO Board but are comfortable with registering with CONGOMA is because the NGO Board has been seen as a club of the ruling party cadets masquerading as professionals who are tirelessly working hard in collaboration with President Mutharika’s advisor on NGOs and Civil Society to stifle the civil society space by targeting the critics of government.
“There is need to review the terms of reference of the NGO Board, and this can be best done by an independent body such as a Special Law Commission,” argued Munthali.
CHRR executive director Timothy Mtambo said as far the CSOs were concerned. the Amendment Bill was repressive, and a product of lack of thorough, inclusive and democratic consultation hence no need to table it.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :