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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • ZIMBABWE: Economic cost of NGO bill
    IRIN News
    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] become illegal."

    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 groups.

    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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