NGO Board, CONGOMA clarify NGO Act amendment bill of 2022 as bill faces resistance

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Board of Malawi and Council for Non-Governmental Organizations in Malawi (CONGOMA) have said the NGO Act Amendment Bill of 2022—which Parliament passed late last month—will result into improved regulation and coordination of the NGO sector, hence bringing more benefits to NGOs.

NGO Board of Malawi and CONGOMA have made the sentiments in a statement they have released jointly, which is signed by Shadreck Malenga and Kossam Jomo Munthali, who are chairpersons of the two organizations, respectively.

The two bodies say they have noted with concern the “level of misinformation” about what the amendment bill has done to NGO Board, CONGOMA and NGOs and their civic space.

The statement also comes after some civil society organizations (CSOs)—led by Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR), Youth and Society (YAS) and Centre for the Development of People (Cedep)—condemned the passing of the amendment bill in Parliament, which now awaits President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera to sign it into law.

Shadreck Malenga, Chairperson for the NGO Board, who co-signed the statement

The CSOs said Parliament acted in contempt of an injunction they obtained against the tabling of the 2018 NGO Act Amendment Bill, for they believe the bill is draconian and prepared without thorough consultations.

Apparently, legal expert Justin Dzonzi even urged President Chakwera not to sign the bill into law.

But NGO Board of Malawi and CONGOMA reiterate that the bill—which is being championed by the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare—underwent “all inclusive” consultation and engagement processes in the last six years, culminating into what is known as the “Salima Consensus” on the NGO Act Amendment Bill.

The statement says the consensus came after the last engagement meeting between CSOs and government on 12th February, 2021 at Livingstonia Beach Hotel in Salima, which addressed all fears and grievances of the NGOs and CSOs.

“After the Salima Consensus, the NGO General Assembly of 2021 then endorsed the contents of the consensus and the bill went through further approvals by the ministers of Gender and Justice and Parliament, who all agreed with the consensus on the major areas of amendment.

The amendment areas are, therefore, what was presented in Parliament on Tuesday 22nd March, 2022 by the Deputy Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare. The Bill was unanimously passed and now awaiting presidential assent as required by the law,” the statement reads in part.

The statement further says the amendment bill has some key implications on regulation and coordination of NGOs, that will result in multiple benefits.

“The bill has maintained the separation of regulation and coordination functions as was the original scheme of the NGO Act between NGO Board and CONGOMA, respectively. It has retained the same functions for both NGO Board and CONGOMA as is currently the case in the principal act.

“It has also heightened the centrality of the trustees or directors of a registered NGO in the accountability and business of the NGO, as now the courts will have options to prosecute both the NGO as a corporate and /or the Trustee or Director of an offending NGO as the case may be.

“The bill has further provided for regulations to be formulated for the registration of International NGOs. This is meant to regulate the operations of International NGOs in Malawi. It is expected that these regulations will be expedited as most of the information is already available with relevant authorities,” says the statement.

The statement adds that the bill has reduced the dominance of NGOs in the board of NGO Board (to be called NGO authority after the bill is assented to), which is expected to reduce conflict of interest from NGOs but also bring diverse views on growing the sector and making it more impactful.

“The bill has also broadened the revenue base for the NGO Board as a state agency to include subvention from State funds.  It has streamlined reporting of the NGO Board from NGO Assembly to Parliament through the Minister responsible but also subjecting its finances to the Public Finance Management Act as all State Agencies do.

“It has rolled back (repealed) the participation of the NGO Board in the AGM of CONGOMA as is sanctioned by the current principal Act. Has clarified a declaration by NGOs that their employees will not participate in partisan politics. Has reaffirmed the need for an organization to register under the law before it is allowed to operate in Malawi,” further reads the statement.

As a matter of way forward, NGO Board of Malawi and CONGOMA say they are already collaborating on a consultative process of developing regulations regarding, among others: registration of NGOs, reporting, compliance, complaints and case management and partnerships between local and international NGOs

“Regulation on complaints and case management will provide clarity on cases that attract fines and penalties and its application. It will also clarify on issues of politicking and electioneering, which have been part of the NGO Act since 2000.

Desirably, there will be complaints and case management committee to which CONGOMA will be a member. A task force is already in place to review the NGO Policy in order to align it to the new law and review NGO fees with a purpose of exploring a unitary fees regime,” the statement concludes.

NGO Board of Malawi is a state-owned registrar and regulator of all NGOs and CSOs. On the other hand, CONGOMA is a membership umbrella organization and coordinating body for NGOs.

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