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NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis
Economic cost of NGO bill
September 06, 2004
HARARE - Zimbabwe's
National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) has
warned that a proposed government bill to regulate NGOs more tightly
was likely to have a serious impact on the economy and civil society
if passed into law.
NANGO Executive Director
Jonah Mudehwe told IRIN the government did not seem to appreciate
the effect the legislation would have on unemployment, or foreign
currency and aid inflows, and his association had commissioned an
impact assessment study that was due out in a fortnight.
The controversial bill,
expected to be tabled in October, seeks to register and vet NGOs,
while outlawing foreign-funded organisations involved in governance
and human rights issues. These NGOs, the government argues, are
used as proxies by Western powers to destabilise the country.
Zimbabwe's Council of
Tourism president, Shingi Munyeza, has pointed out the potentially
significant impact of the "NGO bill" on the tourism industry.
"The hotel and tourism
industry depends a lot on NGO-sponsored workshops and conferences
for business. About 60 percent of our business is conference-driven
in terms of hotel bookings. If a conference is held at a hotel with
tourist attractions, like the Victoria Falls, the same delegates
are the very people who will visit the attractions, and that says
a lot about what will happen to the industry if the bill is passed
into law," Munyeza told IRIN.
Mudehwe said targets
set under the UN Millennium Development Goals, to which Zimbabwe
was a signatory, were also at potential risk. "Essentially,
the Millennium Development Goals look at improving the human rights
of everybody in the world, while combating problems like infant
mortality, malaria, HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation. With
the proposed NGO bill I foresee a reversal on some of the gains."
NGOs are expected to
march in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday against the proposed legislation,
and make a submission to a parliamentary committee. NANGO, which
represents about 300 organisations, has reportedly also met with
Social Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana over the same issue.
Mudehwe noted that aspects
of governance and human rights were issues that many NGOs could
not avoid. "For example, an NGO for people living with HIV/AIDS
may want to engage on advocacy campaigns on the right to treatment,
which is a human right, but under the proposed bill, that [could]
Human Rights Watch (HRW),
the US-based civil liberties watchdog, joined the domestic protest
over the NGO bill on Friday, arguing that it would grant the government
the right to interfere in the legitimate activities of civil society
The proposed government-appointed
Council of Non-Governmental Organisations would have "virtually
unchecked power" to investigate and audit the activities and
funding of civil society groups. "The law would empower the
Council to constantly monitor the groups; leaders of any such organisations
found to be in violation of the act would be subject to fines and
imprisonment. The organisations could lodge objections to Council
decisions, but the Minister would resolve them with no possibility
of recourse to the courts," HRW said in a statement.
"A vibrant civil
society is essential to a functioning democracy," Georgette
Gagnon, deputy director of HRW's Africa Division, was quoted as
saying. "With parliamentary elections in March, the government
needs to ensure space for civil society."
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