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  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • Mugabe urged to ditch NGOs Bill
    Foster Dongozi, The Standard (Zimbabwe)
    April 05, 2005

    THE signing of the controversial Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) Bill into law could be a death knell for the starving Zimbabwean masses as the country faces what could be one of the most devastating droughts in living memory, analysts have warned.

    The NGO Bill was passed by Parliament on 9 December 2004 and only awaits President Robert Mugabe's signature to become law.

    According to the Constitution, the President has 21 days within which to sign the Bill to become law but the 21 days have since lapsed.

    If and when it becomes law, it will bar NGOs from receiving foreign funding for governance programmes.

    The minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Paul Mangwana, whose ministry was instrumental in crafting the NGOs Bill, confirmed the Bill had been presented to Mugabe but could not give the date.

    "The Bill was sent to the President some time ago but I cannot remember when because right now we have been campaigning and I have not been to my office."

    Constitutional law expert, Lovemore Madhuku, said the Bill would lapse after 21 days of being presented to the President.

    "If the President does not sign it into law, it simply means that the Bill ceases to exist," Madhuku said.

    NGOs argue that the rights to access food, the rights of the disabled and the right to access HIV/AIDS treatment should not be classified as governance issues.

    Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) secretary for lands and agriculture, Renson Gasela, said many villagers were starving, especially in the rural areas."Only an insensitive government would come up with laws that would condemn its people to go through hardships especially hunger.

    "The twin evils of hunger and HIV/AIDS are a very destructive force. The effect of HIV/AIDS will be more devastating if people suffer from hunger which could be made worse by the signing of the NGO Bill," said Gasela.

    However, sources said with the drought ravaging the countryside and a Zanu PF majority in Parliament, Mugabe might choose to appease the international community by not signing the Bill into law.

    Bob Muchabaiwa, the Research and Advocacy Officer for the National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO) said they had petitioned President Robert Mugabe not to sign the Bill into law.

    "Your Excellency, we appeal to you not to give assent to the NGO Bill because of its devastating effects on ordinary citizens, the economy and the country.

    "All the work that NGOs do is human rights work whether its access to water, land, information, education, treatment or promoting the rights of people with disabilities or living with HIV and AIDS," reads part of the petition.

    The petition says the signing into law of the Bill would have a negative impact on the Zimbabwean economy.

    "Some of our members have already lost some of their funding as a result of the Bill. This will result in the reduction in foreign aid and foreign currency in-flows into the country.

    "It is our conviction, as NGOs that given the current socio-economic situation in the country, where 70-80 percent of the population is surviving below the poverty datum line and unemployment hovering between 60-80 percent, where over one million children are orphans and where 25 percent of the population is infected by HIV/AIDS, the NGO sector is a safety net," reads part of the petition.

    Muchabaiwa said because of the uncertainty on whether the Bill would be signed into law, international donors were withholding funding while programmes like the anti-HIV/AIDS fight were collapsing.

    Tourism industry boss, Shingi Munyeza, has already raised alarm bells about the possible outlawing of NGOs, saying about 60 percent of hotel business was being provided by NGOs after tourists stopped visiting the country because of lawlessness.

    The Secretary General of the Southern Africa Federation of the Disabled (SAFOD) and chairman of the National Council of the Disabled Persons of Zimbabwe (NCDPZ), Alexander Phiri, described the NGO Bill as an anti-Disability piece of legislation.

    "Based on the government's inability to feed the people because it is bankrupt, I think it will need to come up with a magic formula to feed the country.

    "If that Bill is signed into law, it would be a death sentence for Zimbabweans as that would mean the drying up of funds to support disability, HIV, orphans and other programmes that support vulnerable groups."

    He said if signed into law, programmes designed to help disabled people would be affected.

    Phiri said the disability movement depended a lot on the international community, churches and philanthropists and they faced harsh times if the Bill was signed into law.

    "For a poor country like ours to claim that we can rely on our own resources is a complete fallacy. I would like to appeal to the President to rise above emotion and be guided by good reason," Phiri said.

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