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Lifting of suspension on NGO humanitarian fieldwork - Bill watch special
September 10, 2008

Background to recent lifting of suspension on NGO humanitarian fieldwork

Original ban: The Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare [PSLSW] wrote to PVOs/NGOs on 4th June 2008 suspending humanitarian field operations.

Clarification of the suspension: In response to queries about the suspension the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare sent a letter to all PVOs/NGOs on 12th June 2008 with an attached Clarification.

There were exemptions from the ban given in this clarification [ARV and home-based care programmes, community-based feeding programmes for children, operations at head, regional and district offices, churches]. But it was reported that, in practice, only some activities which should have been exempt were able to continue, while in many areas organisations were forced to stop even exempted activities.

The Clarification made it clear that the suspension of field operations did not imply banning or deregistration of PVOs/NGOs. But reports came in that PVOs/NGOs whose work should not have been affected by suspension [i.e. they were not doing humanitarian field work] were also stopped doing their work by harassment and threats.

Press statement released by Ministry of Public Service, Labour And Social Welfare on 29th August 2008

Lifting of the suspension of NGO/PVO field operations

Reference is made to the notice issued by the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare on June 4, 2008 suspending field operations of all PVO/NGOs.

This suspension is hereby lifted with immediate effect for all PVO/NGOs registered in terms of the PVO Act Chapter 17:05 and operating in the following areas;

  1. Humanitarian assistance, food aid, relief, recovery and development
  2. Family and child care and protection
  3. Care and protection of older persons
  4. Rights and empowerment of people with disabilities
  5. HIV and AIDS treatment, care and related support services.

The lifting of suspension only applies to NG0s/PV0s duly registered in terms of the PVO Act Chapter 17:05. A General meeting of NGOs/PVOs and other relevant stakeholders will be convened on Monday, 01 September 2008 by the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to clarify operation modalities.

L.C. Museka
Secretary for Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare


  • Nothing in this Ministry Press Statement introduces new legal obligations
  • either for those organisations benefiting from the lifting of the suspension
  • or for those organisations which were not affected by the suspension in the first place
  • The lifting of the suspension on humanitarian field operations applies only to organisations registered under the PVO Act
  • Conversely, for organisations not obliged to register under the PVO Act, there is nothing in this document signalling any change in their position.
  • There is no comfort in this document for organisations which should have registered in terms of the PVO Act but have not done so – i.e., organisations presently operating in contravention of the PVO Act. They are not given the go-ahead to operate without having registered

Meeting at the Ministry of PSLSW with PVOs on 1st September to clarify lifting of suspension

No official record of this meeting is available and the Ministry of PSLSW has informed us that minutes of this meeting will not be made available - it was a Consultative Meeting and it was up to the organisations attending to take notes.

NGOs/PVOs at the meeting were informed that the lifting of the suspension was conditional on:

2003 government policy document to be observed

The Ministry has stipulated that all PVOs doing humanitarian field work must comply with the Government’s July 2003 “Policy on Operations of Non-Governmental Organisations in Humanitarian and Development Assistance” the objectives of which are to:

  • define the registration process for NGOs in humanitarian and development assistance
  • define NGO interaction with local communities
  • outline the public works approach for food assistance to the able-bodied
  • outline the reporting structures to be used by NGOs to facilitate government monitoring of their activities.

Questionnaire to be filled in by ALL registered PVOs

This became available today. The Ministry has said that it will be posted on the Government of Zimbabwe Website And that it has been sent to OCHA for posting on their website

The Ministry have said they require organisations to hand in hard copies of the completed questionnaire, but will not make forms available because of a shortage of stationary; they expect organisations to download and print out the form from the Internet or approach NANGO and ask them for a copy.

Originally the Ministry set 21st September as the deadline for completing and handing in the form, but this has been changed – the new deadline will probably be mid October, although no exact date has yet been fixed.

The form [several pages long] requires comprehensive details of activities for the year preceding the imposition of suspension and asks for details of management, programmes, information on budgets and donors, food purchases, stocks etc.

Note: The Ministry has said that all PVOs/NGOs registered under the PVO Act [not only those doing humanitarian field work] should complete and hand in this questionnaire.


Section 15 of the PVO Act and section 17 of the General Regulations cover reporting obligations. They do not presently refer to the sort of details called for by the new questionnaire. Section 15 of the Act does, however, permit the Registrar of PVOs to require registered PVOs to submit “additional information” as well as the annual reports and returns required by the regulations. Failure to submit reports when legally obliged to do so is a ground for cancellation [PVO Act, section 10(1)(f)], but cancellation of registration is a function of the PVO Board, not of a single official.

Ministry letter to the Commissioner-General of Police

02 September 2008

The Commissioner General Police Headquarters


I wish to inform you officially that the Government of Zimbabwe has lifted the suspension of field operation of NGOs/PVOs in the following categories:

  1. Humanitarian assistance, food aid, relief, recovery and development
  2. Family and Child Care and Protection
  3. Care and Protection of Older Persons
  4. Rights and empowerment of people with disabilities
  5. HIV and AIDS treatment; Care and related support service

May I also advise that only NGOs/PVOs duty registered in terms of the PVO Act (Chapter 17:05) are the only ones affected. As a condition for lifting the suspension, all NGOs/PVOs will be required to display a copy of their PVO Registration Certificate at their National, Provincial and District offices.

Additionally, all NGOs registered in terms of the said Act will now be required to deposit a copy of their Registration Certificate with the Provincial Governor's office, District Administrator's office and the District Police Station in the areas which they operate. These measures, it is hoped will allow for easier monitoring and enforcement of conditions of registration.

May you please note that any other organization purporting to be an NGO/PVO but not registered in terms of the NGO Act is not affected by this lifting of suspension. Such organizations have been advised to consult with their registering authority.

Thank you for your usual cooperation.

L.C Museka
Secretary for Public Service, Labor and Social Welfare

Note: The depositing of Registration Certificates at the Provincial Governor's office, District Administrator's office and the District Police Station in the areas in which NGOs operate applies to all NGOs registered under the PVO Act.

NGOs not registered under the PVO Act

The original ban as clarified was targeted at all NGOs/PVOs doing “field work” whether or not they were registered under the PVO Act. [In fact if they were doing humanitarian aid or any field work involving welfare work they should have been registered according to the Act.].

The Act has a list of activities which necessitate registration - these are mostly welfare activities involving working with people [provision of funds for legal aid is included in this list].

NGO’s that are registered as trusts are not necessarily exempt from registration under the PVO Act if they are carrying out the activities outlined in the PVO Act. The only trusts that are excluded are trusts established directly by Act of Parliament and trusts registered with the High Court [these are usually trusts of deceased estates]. There is nothing in the PVO Act exempting trusts registered at the Deeds Office from registration under the PVO Act if they are carrying out work listed under the PVO Act as welfare work.

A Herald report stated that organisations believed to be operating outside the law will be contacted and given an opportunity to explain their operations.

There are certain NGO’s whose work has nothing to do with welfare work that do not at present have to register under the PVO Act. [This was going to be changed if the NGO Bill had become an Act – all NGOs, whatever their work, would have had to register.] Organisations in doubt about the need to register should read the list of activities specified in the PVO Act [section 2] and if necessary seek legal advice. [PVO Act available on request]


Legality vs. Political Reality: Despite the lifting of the ban on humanitarian aid the political situation on the ground may still make relief work difficult/impossible in some areas. A press report has come in that on Monday 8th September, well after the lifting of the ban, war veterans and state security agents blocked the distribution of relief aid in Gutu, Mwenezi and Bikita in Masvingo Province.

Lawyers have questioned the way that Ministerial statements in the state media are being used as an alternative to properly gazetted regulations or Acts of Parliament – this happens also in other spheres such as pricing, land issues, mining, etc. Sometimes these statements are followed by the due legal requirements, sometimes not. Whatever their legality they are acted on by either formal or “informal” law enforcement bodies or interested beneficiaries and, even when there is a Ministry retraction or a legal challenge, continue to enforced. Unfortunately the political situation forces adherence to these Ministry “directives” and resorting to courts is often too drawn out to be worth pursuing or even if a court order is obtained, it may not be effectual..

Regarding the Ministry suspension of humanitarian field work, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights took the position that this was not legally valid as the Private Voluntary Organisations Act does not empower the Minister to suspend an NGO's operations. Neither was the threat to close organisations. As stated above, under the PVO Act it is only the PVO Board, for good cause and after due process and provisions for appeal, that can deregister an organisation. Nevertheless the suspension was enforced and now the lifting of the suspension is hedged about with administrative hurdles.

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