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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • NGO Bill - Index of Opinion and Analysis

  • Government Probe on NGOs
    National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO)
    April 22, 2005

    An inter-departmental Probe Team appointed by the Minister of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act as Inspecting Officers is currently doing the rounds and investigating NGOs around various aspects of their operations. We understand that the Team also includes representatives from different line ministries as well as the Central Intelligence Office. The Terms of reference for the Inspectors are as follows:

    To inspect the affairs and activities of Private Voluntary Organisations and to examine all documents relating thereto in particular.

    • The Registration status of Private Voluntary Organisations and the constitution of the Board
    • Whether activities sponsored or funded are within the mandate of the Private Voluntary Organisation
    • Foreign currencytransactions from pledge to conversion into local currency

    To examine the books accounts and other documents relating to the financial affairs of Private Voluntary Organisations including:

    • Sources of income
    • Structure of Expenditure
    • Verification of Activities implememnted on the ground

    The probe as a surveillance mechanism
    Whereas the Minister is legally entitled to carry out investigations under the auspices of the Private Voluntary Organisations Act on incidents of maladministration the process appears to go beyond merely adhering to the dictates of the law, as there are other political dimensions evident particularly in the identification of the probed Organisations. According to a recent ZIMRIGHTS publication, the PVO Law which is being used as justification for raiding NGO offices is prone to wide interpretation and bestows too intrusive powers on the part of the appointed inspectors. The National Association of NGOs which has been spearheading the campaign for a positive and enabling legal and policy operating environment for Civil Society in Zimbabwe received a first time visit from the Probe Team on Tuesday the 19th of April and expects further visits from the Team.

    A cursory analysis of the list of Organisations that have already been probed indicates that one of the Organisations had a former founder Board Member who is now a key figure in the opposition, another organisation is one set up by the Commercial Farmers Union, another is a prominent and outspoken human rights Organisation. However as evidenced by the rarity of NGO prosecutions for violations of the present law, the NGO sector has throughout the year been cooperative with government and committed to operating within the confines of the Law. Direct raids and survaillance of NGOs and personnell within the sector is therefoe uncalled for and in bad faith. In this regard the challenge for NANGO and the sector at large is therefore to contest the underlying political objectives of the probe where it is felt that they contradict the functioning of a free and independent civil society.

    Dangers imposed by wanton raids on NGOs

    • The unnanouced raids limit both individual and corporate constitutionally guaranteed fundamental freedoms
    • Information sourced through these investigations/inspections might be used to justifuy the enactment of the proposed NGO Law
    • The investigations by government inspectors might project continued harrassment and victimisation of NGO staff and civil society activists
    • The intrusive Ministerial powers monitoring and control powers over the internal administration of NGO s and Civil Socity curtails development work
    • The raids on NGOs can be used as a vindictive and punitive response to what has been termed as subversive activities by NGOs
    • Forced disclosure of foreign funding might be used as a political weapon and as justification for the labelling of NGOs as anti-state western contacts acting against national sovereignity
    • The possible criminilisation of non-registered NGO activity goes against the constitutionally guaranteed Freedom of Association

    *Zimrights NGO Operating Environment Alert

    The sector's response to the probe
    The Legal Node of the NGO Bill response strategy has been put on high alert to give legal advice and support to affected organisations. As such all Organisation who may have been or will be approached by the Probe Team are requested to immediately contact the NGO BILL Legal Node Team through the NANGO office. The NANGO National Advocacy Committee has also met to deliberate on the issue and has advised the NANGO Board on a suitable response strategy which is currently being rolled out.

    Legal advice in relation to the probe
    Although the Probe Team is entitled to access audited financial information that meets the requirements of public disclosure, the Team however cannot, except on the basis of a search warrant or a ministerial decree, gain access to an Organisations' internal and governance documents. In this regard NANGO would like to advise all organisations to ensure that all their books are in good order and their operations are in compliance with the requirements of the PVO ACT. In the event of the Probe Team visiting any Organisation the Organisation is advised to first verify the Team's supporting documents and to request the presence of a lawyer before the Team can begin its Probe.

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