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Implications of the NGO Bill to NASCOH and the disability sector
National Asociation of Scieties for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH)
October 04, 2004

NASCOH views the NGO Bill as a welcome development in as far as it seeks to provide for an enabling environment for the operations, monitoring and regulation of all non-governmental organizations although, the Bill should not be passed to become law in its current state. As NASCOH, we do not support illegal operations and we believe that since NGOs complement the Government, they should indeed also be accountable to the government through the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare by submitting audited reports to the Ministry. However, our bone of contention is on a few areas that are in the NGO Bill.

Firstly, the Bill outlines that organizations dealing with issues of governance will not be allowed to continue with the use of foreign funding. By 'issues of governance,' the Bill outlines that this includes the promotion and protection of human rights and political governance issues. A closer look at the mission of NASCOH and its major activities, outlined above, no doubt shows that NASCOH serves to advocate and lobby for the rights of people with disabilities in line with international conventions such as the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of opportunities for people with disabilities.

It is a fact that people with disabilities have, for a long time, constituted a minority in obscurity and their rights have been minimum at best. Society has taken long to accept disability as diversity in God's creation and has thus relegated them to home dwellers, ignoring them and believing them incapable of participating in the community. At worst, people with disabilities have been avoided and considered as unpleasant reminders of the fragility of our existence. The majorities of them never saw the door of a classroom and are still not going to school. It has become a mark of commonplace courtesy and intellectual rigor to note occasions when issues regarded as topical are tabled … yet there is a strange and really unaccountable silence when the issue of disability is raised. It is because of such a background that NASCOH mainly focuses on lobbying for the rights of people with disabilities in Zimbabwe among which are the following:

  • The right of people with disabilities not to be discriminated against in society and at law both in the private and public spheres. Discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, pregnancy, marital status, age and culture should be prohibited.
  • The right of people with disabilities to an education, training and access to educational facilities or the provision of special facilities that should be accessible to them and where possible, within their communities.
  • The right to state provided basic health, medication and apparatus for their rehabilitation and medical care.
  • The right to social welfare at levels agreed upon annually by the Board, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Finance in consultation with associations of and for people with disabilities.
  • The right to the provision of State assisted shelter and housing on the basis of need.
  • The right to freedom of movement and accordingly access to all public and private buildings, including those buildings and places providing a public service or amenity.
  • The right to information concerning any matter related to disability, the rehabilitation and prevention of disability and research thereto, as well as information on employment opportunities for disabled persons and educational information.
  • The right to leisure and recreation and to that end the State should ensure access to leisure and recreational facilities in communities that people with disabilities live in.

Disability rights are human rights
Our concern as NASCOH is therefore that if the definition of governance in the NGO Bill means the promotion and protection of human rights, then, no doubt, this section of the bill is a threat to the work that NASCOH is doing, that of ensuring that people with disabilities' rights are respected in society and that they benefit from opportunities available just like everyone else who is able-bodied.

Ironically, by lobbying for the rights of people with disabilities, and by lobbying for amendment and formulation of comprehensive disability policies, NASCOH in essence will be highlighting that people with disabilities are not well catered for. This is a governance issue and again is a threat to the operations of NASCOH. Instead of the Bill providing an enabling environment for our operation, instead it begins to provide a prohibitive ground for operation.

According to the crafted NGO Bill, organizations willing to proceed with the promotion of human rights should do so without foreign funding. NASCOH as an umbrella of 53 member organizations received from the government an administration grant of $3 million. In 2003, NASCOH received $1,1 million. Ironically, NASCOH's annual budget for all the programmes of the organization, the administration of the organization, the coordination of member organizations and personnel is more than three million. Unless the government is going to support NASCOH for its programmes then we are able to do away with foreign funding, then in essence, what the NGO Bill is seeking to do is the natural death of NASCOH which has been benefiting people with disabilities in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has a population of 1,2 million people with disabilities, which is too big a population to be returned back to square one. It is common knowledge that local fundraising in an economy experiencing negative growth is largely near impossible.

The NGO Bill seeks to establish an NGO council whereby 10 members will be from relevant government ministries while the other 5 will be from the NGO sector, appointed by the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare in liaison with certain associations. Our concern is that since the biggest number of people will be from the Government, won't it cease to be an NGO council and become a government council? Secondly, the disability sector lacks representation at all higher levels. We have no representation in Parliament and at Ministerial level. Now that the council will only have five representatives in the council from the NGO sector, won't the disability movement be forgotten again?

NASCOH is also concerned with the issue of registration of organizations. The Bill calls for stringent and centralized registration, which to us is a source of discomfort considering that there are still many areas in Zimbabwe, which do not have registered organizations for people with disabilities. We feel that the centralization of registration is going to make registration both slow and inefficient. According to the Bill, the Director of Social services will temporarily be the registrar of NGOs until a Director solely responsible for this is employed. From experience, NASCOH does not see the feasibility of this. NASCOH has been crying for a Director for disability affairs as stipulated in the Disabled persons' Act (1992) for a long time and up to now that Director has not yet been appointed. The current Director for Social services already has a big load of work considering he is responsible for social services, the disabled, children, the aged, poverty reduction etc. His capacity to focus on issues of registration of NGOs may be a bit too much and unrealistic for efficiency purposes.

Conclusion
While the move for an NGO Act is noble, as it certainly is not proper to operate in space, as NASCOH we sincerely hope that the above highlighted sections will be amended and that the Bill will not be passed to become law in its current state. We urging all our member organizations and all stakeholders concerned to continue lobbying their legislators to take cognizance of the above issues and ensure that the necessary amendments are made.

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