Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) held a Post Public Hearings Community Feedback meeting on the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Bill in Bulawayo on Friday 08 April 2022.
The meeting was graced by Honourable Jasmine Toffa, media house representatives, Community Radio Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, Residents Association heads, Bulawayo City Council representatives, Informal Economy Organisations, Persons with Disabilities, Human Rights Organisations, Humanitarian Organisations amongst others.
In giving the objective of the meeting, VISET Executive Director Samuel Wadzai said upon hearing from members that they had not been able to participate fully at the national public hearings held by the parliamentary committee, they had seen it fit to invite legislators to a platform where they can get to hear directly from members of the public on their views pertaining to the proposed Bill.
Jabulani Chikomwe VISET Information and Publicity Officer, who was giving a presentation on the Bill and its likely effects, began by asking participants what in their views was their experience of CSOs in communities. Participants said in their views, CSOs and development partners were the ones anchoring the health sector through supply of equipment, drugs and salaries. They also spoke on another organisation providing school fees and foodstuffs to widows, advocacy groups who had recently lobbied government to avail documentation to marginalised groups such as the San community.
Jabulani then gave an overview of the PVO Bill and the motivation behind its introduction which was to bring Zimbabwe to full compliance with Recommendation 8 of the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), to streamline administrative procedures and regulation of PVOs and prevention of PVOs from political funding and lobbying. Jabulani contended that the main concern for CSOs was the obscure terms employed such as ‘political lobbying’ which can be used to prosecute organisations involved in activities such as voter mobilisation, education and awareness campaigns. Already, there are reports of CSOs being victimised for voter awareness programmes and having their MOUs with District Development Coordinators (DDCs) cancelled.
With regards to Recommendation 8, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in March announced Zimbabwe’s removal from the list of countries that are considered to be non-compliant in implementing anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism standards, it was thus no longer necessary to go ahead with the Bill as the country had been given the all clear by the FATF through existing measures implemented by the Finance Ministry, Financial Intelligence Unit and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
On streamlining administrative procedures and regulation of PVOs, Jabulani said it was their respectful view that what was needed was a review and easing of registration processes of Trust Organisations and PVOs and that regulation was already being undertaken through the fact that CSOs all worked hand in hand with government agencies, traditional leadership and elected officials in the implementation of their activities. It was also their view that regulation was something that could be done by CSOs themselves through a body they would create and elect representatives to.
Of major concern again to CSOs was the sweeping powers granted to the Minister under the Bill, which are unconstitutional as they trample upon liberties granted by the Constitution such as Freedom of Association and the Right to Administrative Justice.
Speaking during the plenary session, participants expressed fear that the Bill could lead to a collapse of the health system, given the reliance on donors at almost all hospitals and clinics.
There are already signs that Zimbabwe is facing a poor agriculture season and as such, food insecurity is likely to be a reality for many, particularly in the Matebeleland regions.
With regards to Persons with Disabilities, the National Disability Policy, launched in June last year stipulates that government can only provide within its available means support to the sector, meaning they can always cite lack of resources as reason. As it stands, a look at the recent ZIMSEC A’ Level results showed there is an ever-decreasing number of persons with disabilities who can proceed with their education to tertiary level largely due to lack of resources by families, said Pretty Mpofu.
Participants were strongly of the view that government should desist from interfering with CSOs but must rather be at the forefront in ensuring that they operate unhindered as they were complimentary to government efforts in addressing hunger and inequality. Honourable Jasmine Toffa the Proportional Representative for Bulawayo Metropolitan Province sought to understand the disturbances that had rocked the two venues where public hearings were held, and she undertook to raise the issue in Parliament.
Hon. Toffa also assured participants that she had recorded their objections and took the opportunity to remind them of their power in deciding the laws that could be introduced and their content, giving an example of the Child Marriages Act that was delayed owing to societal objections to certain clauses.
In conclusion, Bulawayo Vendors and Traders Association (BVTA) Executive Director Michael Ndiweni thanked Hon. Toffa for her pledge to convey their views to Parliament saying it is of critical importance that government understands that as CSOs there are complimentary and not in competition to government in development activities. Mr. Ndiweni also expressed the hope that the issue of registration of CSOs would be tackled through cutting bureaucracy and red tape in line with the ease of doing business policy of the government.