Governance expert and commentator Makhumbo Munthali has called for wider consultations before tabling the newly gazetted controversial Non-Governmental Organisations Bill whose effects he said will be far wider than just on NGOs as it will shrink the freedoms of Malawians and allow the government to control them.
The proposed amendments to the NGO Act seek to repeal legal functions of the Council for NGOs in Malawi (Congoma) and upgrade the NGO Board into a sole regulatory authority with the power to fine and deregister non-compliant organisations.
The eight-page Bill going to Parliament is repressive regulations which has been secretly drafted without consulting the human rights defenders in the country, according to Munthali.
“I would recommend that the 2018 NGO Amendment Bill should not be tabled in the current sitting of Parliament pending nationwide consultations. It is clear that government has ambushed not only NGOs and MPs but also the entire public,” Munthali told Nyasa Times in an interview.
He pointed out that the Constitution and Parliament procedures provide that adequate time should be provided after gazetting a Bill for the MPs and the entire public to give their adequate inputs to the Bills.
“However, what we have seen runs counter to the spirit and letter of the Constitution. It is a mockery and suspicious on the part of government to come up with an NGO amendment Bill which is devoid of inputs and consultation from the stakeholders whom such a law would apply like CONGOMA and other NGOs. Why the rush?
“The manner in which the government and the NGO Board have conducted this issue smacks suspicion, and only validates the fears that some stakeholders have raised that the Amendment Bill is aimed at restricting the civic space,” the governance commentator said.
He proposes that that the issue of Law reform or review around all NGO related laws including the current NGO Act of 2001 should be led or coordinated by an independent body such as the Malawi Law Commission together with Malawi Human Rights Commission “as it is now clear that neither NGO Board nor the government (Ministry of Gender and Justice) can lead such a process in the public interest and also in line with international human rights law.”
He said a Law Commission should then share recommendations and the proposed Amendment Bill to the Minister of Gender after finishing their consultations and work.
“I believe such a process would enhance credibility and trust of the process,” said Munthali.
But Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said government consulted some organisations before drafting the Bill.
Tembenu said the law reform, which prescribes fines of up to K15 million for non-compliant NGOs, would make NGOs accountable to Malawians.
Southern Africa Human Defenders Network chairperson Arnold Tsuga a lawyer who leads the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) on the continent, described the NGO Bill as one of the continent’s widely adopted repressive laws to muzzle critical voices and spy on human rights defenders.
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 :