Committees in Parliament have taken turns to bash government on the proposed NGO (Amendment)Bill, arguing that the manner government has rushed the piece of legislation smacks” sinister motives” in readiness of May 21 2019 Tripartite elections.
Council of Non-Governmental Organisation (CONGOMA) in partnership with Human Rights Defenders Forum (HRDC) on Tuesday held a lobbying meeting with the chairpersons of the various Committees in Parliament to brief them about the specifics in the Bill.
Amongst the high profile Members of Parliament in attendance included Jospeh Chidanti Malunga, Richard Chimwendo Banda, Juliana Lunguzi, Wakuda Kamanga, Sam Kawale, Lingstone Belekanyama, Thyolera, Patricia Mkanda and others.
Making his presentation titled: “Is CONGOMA and its affiliates jumping the gun? An analysis of the 2018 NGO Amendment Bill” before the Parliamentary Committees, a Lilongwe-based governance commentator Makhumbo Munthali observed that the government stance through the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare that government would still want to see the NGO Act amended first before calling for a Special Commission to review the whole NGO Act of 2001 was suspicious and contradictory.
The Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare Cecilia Chazama has dismissed fears that the law would limit civil liberties.
She said in quotes reported by The Nation newspaper: “We discussed with them [CSOs], heard them out and, as a ministry, we responded to their concerns accordingly. In our view, Congoma and its affiliates are jumping the gun. This process is only an amendment and after this, there will be a Special Law Commission to review the whole Act.
“To us [government], it is a question of accountability and transparency. We feel there must be a regulatory body to check what CSOs are doing.”
However, Munthali said while it was commendable for government for accepting CONGOMA and HRDC’ recommendation of subjecting the whole review of the NGO Act and other NGO related laws, it was misleading for government to suggest that the NGO Amendment Bill in its current form should be passed before the Special Law Commission is instituted.
“It is clear that government is not being honest on this. If government is really serious about plans to institute a Special Law Commission to review the NGO Act, then why should government rush to table in Parliament an amendment Bill of the very same Act it plans to subject to a review process later. Why the rush? Is this not wastage of resources and time? If government is so passionate about its proposals which are in the Amendment Bill, it would be important that it waits and shares them with the “to-be” constituted Special Law Commission just like any other stakeholder like the NGO Sector and other citizens, ” queried Munthali.
Munthali added that the Minister was misleading the nation by “insinuating that the Special Law Commission’s review of the NGO Act will exempt those areas that are to be amended by the preceding Parliament to the constitution of the Special Law Commission.
“The truth of the matter is that if a Special Law Commission is constituted it will certainly review the whole Act including those areas that may be amended. And furthermore the Special Law Commission report (with its recommendations on the Act) which will certainly carry a proposed Bill on the Amendment of the NGO Act will be presented to the responsible Minister for Cabinet considerations before presenting it in Parliament. In this case Parliament will still have a say on the proposed Bill.” Argued Munthali.
Munthali noted that the Minister’s statement raises suspicion of the possible conspiracy to use the amended law to stifle Civil Society in the build up to 2019 Tripartite elections.
“Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense to urge Parliamentarians to pass the Amendment Bill and then later call for a review of the whole Act including the amended areas after the elections. It smacks sinister motives perhaps in the short term”, said Munthali.
Wakuda Kamanga echoed Munthali’s sentiments by stating it was surprising for government to send conflicting statements on the institution of the Law Commission.
“The good part of taking the path of the Law Commission is that it ensures that the views of various stakeholders are taken aboard before Members of Parliament can deliberate on the proposals. So why does government want to rush with the Amendment Bill when it knows that it would institute a Special Law Commission to review the Law. This is surprising,” wondered Kamanga.
Taking his floor, Chimwendo Banda said he was “95% in agreement with the observations shared by Munthali in his presentation” arguing that the NGO Amendment Bill had a number of flaws which required urgent address.
“It is true that the issue of accountability of NGOs remain a great concern to everybody mindful of the trillions that floor into the country to support NGO activities. NGOs just like any stakeholder must be held accountable. However, we have also noted that government is hiding behind accountability of NGOs in order to advance its own selfish motives. For example, some of us are totally against the proposal of the Minister appointing members of the NGO Board. CONGOMA should be the one which should submit names to the Minister for such appointment. We are also against the idea of regulatory authority. Authority what? There is no need for creating another authority. Even the issue of K15 million fines, we think this must be completely deleted”, argued Chimwendo.
Other parliamentarians such as Lunguzi, Maxon Thyolera also wondered why government was rushing with the Bill.
“Government is accusing CSOs of jumping the gun when in actual fact it is the government which is jumping the gun through such ambush”, said Thyolera.
In the 30 minutes presentation, governance expert 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.
Human Rights Defenders Coalition Chairperson Timothy Mtambo said as far the Civil Society 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 :