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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • ZIMBABWE: NGOs to raise concerns with government
    IRIN News
    September 06, 2004

    HARARE - Non-governmental organisations in Zimbabwe will have an opportunity next week to raise their concerns about a proposed law that seeks to clamp down on local groups receiving foreign funding for the promotion of human rights and good governance.

    A parliamentary committee is to hear presentations by NGOs on the proposed bill on Tuesday.

    Rights groups have argued that, if passed, the law would further restrict civil liberties, but the authorities have countered that the draft bill is meant to regulate the operations of NGOs for national security reasons.

    President Robert Mugabe has long accused the NGO community of meddling in the country's politics.

    Groups involved in human rights work are concerned that without international aid their operations would be seriously compromised.

    The Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation (ZACRO), an NGO running rehabilitation programmes in prisons, has remarked that since the proposal of the bill donors had become increasingly nervous about their association with groups tackling human rights or good governance issues. Many were now "fence sitters", Edson Chihota, the national treasurer of ZACRO, told IRIN.

    The government grant to ZACRO of Zim $1 million (about US $180,000) a year has proved inadequate for a prison system involving 42 prisons and more than 20,000 inmates, and the money allowed ZACRO to do little beyond operating a skeleton staff and paying for administrative costs such as electricity, water and telephone bills.

    Chihota said they were sometimes allowed to operate a casino, from which they obtained "a few [Zimbabwean] dollars", and received some assistance from organisations such as the Prison Fellowship, who were also funded by churches and donors. However, there was a need for strong and continuous donor support.

    Government had shown interest in the idea of a comprehensive donor-assisted HIV/AIDS programme in prisons, but this was now uncertain because of the NGO Bill.

    A report compiled by the Institute of Correctional and Security Studies said more than half of all prisoners in Zimbabwe were HIV positive.

    The government funds HIV/AIDS programmes through a levy administered by the National Aids Council (NAC), but not much money finds its way to the prisons. "Government is getting money from NAC funds, but why is it used only for peer education in the prisons? Why not for the purchase of drugs? Why not for identifying a special diet?" Chihota asked.

    The authorities are also reluctant to provide employment for ex-prisoners, even those possessing nationally recognised certificates in "motor mechanics, tin smithing, carpentry, welding, O and A levels" but, at the same time, ZACRO funds from government were insufficient to provide ex-offenders with real security upon release.

    Chihota added that ZACRO had unsuccessfully lobbied the land ministry for a farm to serve as a halfway home for ex-prisoners, where they could acquire hands-on experience in their chosen fields and generate some income before branching out on their own. ZACRO would have expected to source funds for this project from donors.

    Rachel Rufu, an official of the NGO section of the ministry of labour and social welfare tasked with administering the bill, said donors and NGOs were being unnecessarily "jittery".

    "They have nothing to worry about. They should carry on with their work. It still has to be debated in public and parliament in the next three months, and changes may be effected. No one can be prosecuted now on the grounds of the bill - it's not yet law," she told IRIN.

    But Fambai Ngirande of the advocacy team for the National Association of NGOs (NANGO) said NGOs had reason to be concerned and aware of the current interpretations of the bill.

    He said NANGO was in discussion with the labour ministry and would participate in a public hearing on 7 September to put forward a request for a "redraft of some of the issues".

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