Crisis Coalition in Zimbabwe Letter To Ziyambi Ziyambi Over PVO Amendment Bill
1 December 2021
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Re: ZIMBABWEAN CIVIL SOCIETY’S CONCERNS ON THE PVO AMENDMENT BILL 2021 

The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC), a conglomeration of 350 citizens’ organizations including the Church, Labour, Women, Youth, Students, Farmers, War Veterans and the informal sector variously organised as Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), Trusts and social movements, is writing to you in your capacity as the Leader of Government Business in Parliament and Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

This letter presents the position of these organisations.

  1. We refer to the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill) gazetted on the 5th of November 2021.
  1.  We have taken note of the Memorandum to the Bill which asserts that the purpose of the amendments are to:

i.   Comply with the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) recommendations to align the country’s laws with Recommendation 8, whose objective is to ensure that NGOs/PVOs are not misused by terrorist organisations.

ii. To prevent the exploitation of legitimate entities as conduits for terrorist financing;

iii. To streamline administrative procedures for PVOs to allow for efficient regulation and registration; and

iv. To ensure that PVOs do not undertake political lobbying.

  1. Kindly note our dismay and concern at the processes around the formulation as well as the contents and the spirit of the Bill, which we outline below:

3.1      The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), under whose premise the current PVO Amendment Bill is based, implores Governments to broadly consult in their bid to develop and implement FATF rules and regulations. We are concerned by your current disregard for broad consultations as recommended and we view the current overtures by your Ministry as not in good faith. 

3.2      Clause 2 broadens the scope of organisations that will be regulated under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, to include NGO trusts and common law universitas organisations collecting funds from the public and from outside the country. It provides for criminal liability for failing to register or sign a declaration relating to sources of funding, as directed.

Regulation and registration of the not-for-profit sector must not amount to interference, or be disproportionate to the extent of converting private voluntary actors into quasi-state institutions.

3.3      It is our considered view that the phrase ‘political lobbying’ is vague, and is open to abuse by any individual tasked with the implementation of the proposed Act. As feminist theory has shown us, the ‘personal/private is political’, and a lot of the work of private voluntary actors borders on issues that connect with what can be construed as political; whether these are socio-economic, cultural, environmental, children, women, youth, PWDs, or legal issues.

We are deeply concerned that such wording in the Bill can be used to stifle the operations of bona fide and well-intentioned private citizens in the name of the law.

3.4      A number of private voluntary organisations from different sectors continue to report the continued and illegal enforcement of a non-existent law by asking for “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOUs) for them to operate in various districts of Zimbabwe in-spite of a High Court order declaring such requirements illegal.

3.5      The GoZ has expressed open hostility towards private voluntary actors, and vilified them as agents of the West/regime change agents; terrorist groups, and purveyors of fake news. The President has repeatedly threatened NGOs, declaring that they are “… operating outside of their mandates and out of sync with the government’s humanitarian priority programmes” and that they are venturing into partisan politics, setting the tone for the implementation of restrictive measures in relation to the administration of NGOs/PVOs.

Our constitution makes it explicitly clear under section 58, that ‘every citizen has a right to freedom of assembly and association….’, and yet the PVO Amendment Bill highlights a penchant towards usurping such rights.  

3.6      We are concerned that the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) is increasingly imposing restrictive measures narrowing civic and democratic space. We have been following with interest the fast track passing of laws such as the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill, Maintenance of Peace & Order Act (MOPA), Constitutional Amendment No. 2, and recently the gazetting of the Private Voluntary Act Amendment Bill which in our view are all retrogressive pieces of legislation in Zimbabwe.

  1. It is our considered view that your Ministry and Government want to deceptively hide behind contemporary notions of “money laundering and terrorist financing” to restrict civil and democratic space. We are deeply concerned about the role your Ministry continues to play in crafting Bills, which in our view are not progressive and reflect lack of respect for the constitution that came through the participation of Zimbabweans.

We have noted that since the coming in of the Second Republic, the Government which you serve has exhibited an insatiable appetite to enact repressive laws which, for all intents and purposes, are against the spirit and letter of our constitution. These laws in one way or the other are in violation of the supremacy and sanctity of the constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

  1. We are surprised to notice that your Ministry and Government look eager to disregard both the intended and unintended consequences of enacting the amended PVO Act.

As a Coalition, we want to draw your attention to the broader consequences, beyond the legal implications on constitutionally prescribed rights and freedoms if the Bill is going to be fast tracked into law:

5.1      The Bill seems oblivious to the broader impact of the closure or banning of private voluntary activities or actors.

5.2      The Bill seems not to foresee the potential humanitarian impact of its implementation given the support that our national budget receives from private voluntary actors. A very significant proportion of our health, education, water and sanitation, humanitarian, research and wildlife protection budgets are supported through international financing and the work of private voluntary actors. The restriction and withdrawal of humanitarian agencies will have a dire effect on the dignity and lives of ordinary people, especially children, the girl child, orphans, people living disabilities, food insecure regions of the country and ethnic minorities among other vulnerable communities.

5.3 The Bill does not consider the political cost of its implementation, notably the Second Republic’s engagement and re-engagement efforts. The action to continuously flout principles and values of democracy through enactment of repressive and unjust laws is a drawback on these efforts.

5.4      The Bill seems bent on reversing the strides made by the private voluntary actors in addressing issues of marginality, especially of social groups. Private voluntary actors have been at the fore-front of addressing issues salient to women, youth, orphans and vulnerable children, among many others; all this in complementing government efforts towards the same. With the devastating socio-economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the complementary role of private voluntary actors in mitigating its effects cannot be over-emphasized. 

5.5      The grant and development funds coming into the country through private voluntary actors continue to contribute to the foreign currency reserves  in the country. The sector contributes to employment and ultimately to the government’s tax revenue, not to mention the operations of the banking sector. Destabilizing this ecosystem can have potential effects on the broader economy.

5.6      The government seems to be concerned with power retention rather than preserving the gains of our hard-won liberation and independence, and the sacrosanctity of our locally developed progressive constitution. 

  1. In view of our clearly stated analysis and positions above, we recommend the following:

6.1      Respect the Zimbabwean constitution, especially Section 58 which states that, ‘every citizen has a right to freedom of assembly and association….’

6.2      That you frame your policy processes in line with President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s November 2017 inauguration speech after taking over from President Mugabe; the president has always stated that his administration has an open-door policy; kindly consider broadening your consultations on the proposed Bill.

6.3      That the country considers inviting the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to Zimbabwe to facilitate an inclusive and participatory risk assessment on financial terrorism and money laundering, and use that shared analysis to frame the scope and content of the Bill such that it addresses substantive rather than speculative issues.

6.4      Allow private voluntary actors to work with the state in supporting vulnerable sections of society, especially in education, health, livelihoods and targeting socially marginalized groups including, women, people with disabilities, the elderly, orphans, girls and young women, ethnic minorities and various victims of climate change.

We will keep engaging with your Ministry and other stakeholders in a bid to discuss the issues raised in this letter in the spirit of fostering progressive dialogue in our common interest of a democratic and economically developed Zimbabwe. We will however not support any move that seeks to withdraw agency from ordinary citizens, and usurping their right to participate in the development of the country.

Yours sincerely,

Rashid Mahiya

Chairperson