Government recently gazetted the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, ostensibly to bring the existing PVO Act into line with Recommendation 8, made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to prevent money launderers and terrorist financiers from abusing PVOs for illicit activities.
Certainly, all Zimbabweans want to know that the country is playing its part in preventing money laundering and terrorist financing. But does the PVO Amendment Bill achieve this? According to the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN), “There is no history that the NGOs in Zimbabwe have been involved in any way in money laundering or financing of terrorism in a way that warrants significant concern to overhaul the legal registration and operating framework.”
Furthermore, according to the International Center for Not-for-profit Law (ICNL), the Bill “contains several concerning provisions that either do not comply with FATF Recommendation 8 or undermine the right to freedom of association for PVOs.” Amongst these are the broad discretion the Bill gives the Minister and an overbroad risk assessment process inconsistent with FATF’s Recommendation 8. The FATF recommends focused and proportionate measures, in line with a risk-based approach.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has not done a National Risk Assessment for money laundering and financing of terrorism in order to assess threats and gaps in legislation. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has identified and listed entities associated with money laundering, and the Financial Intelligence Unit in Zimbabwe can instruct banks to ban suspected money launderers from banking for two years. As the SAHRDN points out, “no single NGO or civil society activist is on [the RBZ] list of money launderers . . . [and] government already has enough powers to combat money laundering without the need to create additional legislation targeting NGOs.”
So, the terrorism and money laundering agenda might not be cause enough, but the PVO Act certainly is in need of amending. According to Veritas, the existing Act is inconsistent with constitutional provisions, including freedom of association, and the restrictions it imposes are too broad and arbitrary to limit these freedoms democratically.
But do the proposed amendments bring the Bill closer into line with the Constitution? According to the SAHRDN, the amendments would actually have the opposite effect: “The PVO Amendment Bill poses a significant risk to civic space in Zimbabwe. It gives too much power to the Executive to control and interfere with the work of NGOs. It increases the surveillance and monitoring of NGOs and HRDs. It potentially criminalises NGO work and human rights defending. It creates real dangers of expropriation of NGOs funds and assets without due process and compensation. It might also be used to disrupt the work in support of democracy, governance, human rights and the rule of law. . . . The PVO Amendment Bill is therefore far from being consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”
Similarly, Veritas has described the Bill as incoherent, unconstitutional, vague and broad; “badly conceived and badly put together.” They note: “perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Bill is its vagueness. Its provisions are not clearly drafted and while this frequently results in incoherence, . . . it will also encourage government officials to place an unduly repressive interpretation on the Bill’s vague and broadly drawn provisions.” Veritas raises particular concern regarding Clause 5 of the Bill, which makes it an offence for a PVO to “support or oppose a political party or candidate,” without effectively defining what this support or opposition entails. According to Veritas, “if the clause is enacted the Government will almost certainly use it to prevent PVOs from expressing any form of support for any political party; perhaps they will use it to prevent PVOs from supporting particular policies put forward by a political party; perhaps even to prevent them from engaging in civic education or election observation or similar activities. Whatever interpretation is put on the clause, it could certainly be abused.”
Action: Find out more! Join us on Weds 17 November at 7pm on Twitter Spaces. We’ll be speaking with Musa Kika, Amanda Ndlovu, McDonald Lewanika and YOU to unpack the PVO Amendment Bill, discussing what is in it, why you should care, and what we can do about it.