Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) conducted a Post-Public Hearings Community Feedback Meeting on the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill in Gweru yesterday Wednesday the 6th of April.
The meeting, was graced by representatives of 3 Midlands Province Members of Parliament, Residents association heads, Community Radio Coordinators, National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO), Informal Traders Associations, Human Rights Activists, Humanitarian Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, Members of the Media and Persons with Disabilities to mention a few.
Jabulani Chikomwe VISET Information and Publicity Officer began his presentation by outlining the major components of the Bill, which are premised upon ensuring Zimbabwe is in compliance with Recommendation 8 by the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) on money laundering and terrorist funding, streamlining administrative procedures and regulation of PVOs and preventing PVOs from political lobbying.
With regards to regulation, the Bill gives inordinate, unchecked powers to the Minister of Public Service and Social Welfare to interfere, direct and control operations of PVOs, with the mandate to even suspend Directors/Trustees and to shut down those he may deem to be in breach of the law without the benefit of a hearing.
Jabulani then presented on the work that is being undertaken by Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) throughout the country ranging from the recent broad COVID-19 interventions where the organisations were largely the sole supplier to communities of personal protective equipment, radio lessons during lockdown, cash assistance to vulnerable households, to drought relief assistance, sexual reproductive health education and supplies, voter education, infrastructure development and livelihoods initiatives such as goat farming, development of hybrid seed varieties and dairy farming to name just but a few of the interventions being done by CSOs throughout the country.
He then highlighted how the Bill would affect the operations and indeed the sustenance of CSOs through the excessive powers being accorded the Minister by provisions in the Bill that go against the grain of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in the national Constitution such as the Freedom of Association, Right to Administrative Justice and Protection of Privacy.
Participants welcomed the platform accorded by VISET saying the only consultative process they had heard of was a radio session, whilst the physical meeting was conducted in Gokwe, where some of the team leaders seemed to also be in the dark with regards what exactly the Bill was meant to address.
Another participant said they felt that existing legislation such as the Anti Money Laundering Act actually addressed the main premise of the Bill and that the fact that it was against so many provisions in the Constitution meant it cannot stand legal scrutiny and should be done away with.
Participants expressed anger in that government would seek to regulate operations and funding of organisations that have stood in where government has been unable or has failed to provide for communities, citing drought food relief efforts and the economic strife of 2008, where shop shelves were empty and CSOs through assistance of development partners had managed to source, supply and distribute food aid.
Roseline Mlambo representing people with disabilities said as a demographic, government has never prioritised them and that they have been lacking in confidence to stand up for their rights, but with help from CSOs they have been empowered and are being accorded platforms to articulate how they would want their needs addressed, hence they would not want to see any interference within CSOs as it would undo the positive progress that has been made in catering to their needs.
A representative of a faith-based organisation said government needs to understand that CSOs are not homogeneous hence the approach must reflect that, she felt that there was no honesty on the part of government with regards the true intent of the Bill as organisations were already working with certain line ministries along with District Development Coordinators whenever they go into communities, which is a form of oversight in itself.
Representatives of legislators were then handed over the document highlighting objections to the Bill and recommendations, key amongst which was the self-regulation of CSOs and the curtailment of the Minister’s ability to interfere in their operations, which they promised to present to the Members of Parliament.
Samuel Wadzai VISET Executive Director said the meetings they are conducting were critical interventions considering that many communities felt left out of the national consultative process, and that there had not been proper publicity campaigns to highlight what was contained in the Bill and the likely effects.
Wadzai said they would be engaging with Members of Parliament across the political divide to ensure the submissions they are capturing within communities are brought to their attention so as to inform debate on the Bill.