The Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) has become the latest organisation to publicly resist the NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2018 and asked state owned NGO Board of Malawi to withdraw the bill “completely” until it conducts thorough consultations on the matter.
Some civil society organisations (CSOs) feel the provision threatens to wipe out civic space.
CSEC executive director, Benedicto Kondowe, said the bill has some aspects that are not healthy for the conducive operating environment of NGOs and CSOs in Malawi.
He was speaking to reporters at a news conference in Lilongwe which he jointly addressed with Simekinala Kaluzi from Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (Congoma) and Desmond Mhango from NGO Coalition on Child Rights.
The CSOs argued that the proposed amendment creates “a monster regulator” and coordinator of NGOs in the proposed NGO Regulatory Authority with absolute powers without accountability checks.
They noted: “It whittles down the role of Congoma [Council for NGOs in Malawi]—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.”
However, a source within the NGO Board of Malawi-which is the registrar and regulator of all NGOs and CSOs in the country-has said the NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2018 has already been revised into a new and “friendly” NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2020.
Among other things, the Bill seeks to transform the NGO Board of Malawi into a more powerful NGO regulatory authority and impose new stiffer penalties and criminalization in case of malpractices by NGOs.
The NGO Board of Malawi has been advancing the bill in its bid to sanitize the NGO sector.
Kondowe said such a bill, once enacted into law, has the potential to shrink CSOs civic space.
“As CSOs, we are not against regulation. Actually, this would make us accountable just as we want government to be accountable. What we are against is the use of the law to regulate CSOs with a view to control them.
“The NGO Board must withdraw the bill and it must not be tabled in Parliament until thorough consultations are done. Otherwise we will use all tools at our disposal to challenge the tabling of this bill,” Kondowe said.
The CSEC executive director also condemned what he described as regime dictatorial tendencies that are aimed at stifling CSOs civic space in Malawi.
“The current administration is no exception. The recent remarks by Minister Patricia Kaliati threatening to shut down some NGOs are unfortunate. We are asking her to be slow to make such remarks,” he said.
But commenting on the NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2018, an anonymous source within the NGO Board of Malawi has told Nyasa Times that the contentious and controversial bill is no longer there.
“It is actually water under the bridge. Congoma, NGO Board and government had very amicable and fruitful engagements over the matter, leading to the revision of the bill which is now a new and an all encompassing NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2020. We are moving forward,” said the source.
Kondowe recommended re-drafting of the law and involvement of more stakeholders.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :