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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
NGOs to raise concerns with government
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
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
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?"
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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