Some civil society organisations (CSOs) have petitioned Parliament, asking that the Non-Governmental Organisations (Amendment) Act, 2018 should not be tabled as observed by governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali who called for wider consultations before tabling the piece of legislation whose effects will be far wider than just on NGOs as it will shrink the freedoms of Malawians and allow the government to control them.
The CSOs have said the Amendment Act is not a product of a thorough, inclusive and democratic process of consultation and is unwarranted State encroachment on civic space, is vague and has overly broad provisions.
Through the Council for Non-Governmental Orgnisations (Congoma) and Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), the CSOs argue that they feel government, through the Amendment, is treating them like terrorists, yet they help the State in various development endeavours.
The petition, presented to Parliament on Friday, 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.
The petition was received at at Parliament by Dowa North East legislator, Sam Kawale of Malawi Congress Party (MCP).
Malawi’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition Timothy Mtambo also expressed concern with the proposed law, saying it would place each and every NGO “at the whim of the government.”
Mtambo said a vibrant civil society is “essential to a functioning democracy.”
“This is an effort to shrink citizen’s voice to demand accountability from the government, this is a repressive law that is against the constitutional and international best practices of NGO laws,” said Mtambo.
The bill is expected to be discussed during the current Parliament meeting.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :