JUSTICE minister Ziyambi Ziyambi (pictured) has been challenged to provide evidence on political interference by non-governmental organisations and that some charities are conduits for sponsoring terrorism and other criminal activities as claimed by the regime in justifying its push to shut down private voluntary organisations (PVOs).
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been threatening PVOs, claiming that they are pushing for illegal regime change in the country and sponsoring the opposition while also dabbling in other activities outside their mandate.
While the move to enact a law banning NGOs has triggered an international outcry and is widely seen as an affront to democracy, Zanu PF has insisted on the need for it to keep the organisations in check despite warnings that the ill-conceived PVOs Amendment Bill could cost Zimbabwe close to US$800 million in development funding this year.
In a report on the PVOs Amendment Bill by Veritas, a legal think-tank, Ziyambi told members of Parliament that the Bill does not speak to those law-abiding PVOs but to the few who may be tempted to use the guise of charity to carry out “undesirable, harmful and even criminal activities.”
Veritas said in his justification of the Bill, Ziyambi claimed communication had been received from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that some charities are being used to channel terrorist funding and other criminal activities.
The Justice minister, Veritas said, also claimed that some charitable organisations were being misused to launder the proceeds of criminal activities by “for instance buying up properties in Zimbabwe and other countries.”
Ziyambi also claimed that the government was aware that “some so-called charities act in a politically partisan manner by directing money to favoured political parties or candidates at the expense of other political parties or candidates”.
But Veritas challenged Ziyambi to prove the government’s controversial allegations, noting that there was no record of any FATF’s report raising the issue.
“None of the FATF’s published reports have mentioned this activity by Zimbabwean PVOs. If any such report has indeed been received by the government, the minister should in the interests of transparency make this available to Parliament,” Veritas challenged Ziyambi.
Only last month, Zimbabwe was removed from the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), having satisfied the taskforce during a visit that it is fully compliant in implementing required global anti-money laundering banking standards and that its banks cannot be used by those financing terrorism.
According to a report titled Punching Holes to a Fragile Economy, compiled by Prosper Chitambara, Clinton Musonza and Phillan Zamchiya, the proposed law will have a far-reaching negative impact and implications not just for civil society organisations, but also for government development programmes and the poor who rely on aid for survival and access to critical social services.
The report stated that according to the 2022 national budget statement, during the period f4om January to September 2021, the country received development assistance amounting to US$647.8 million, of which US$401.9 million was from bilateral partners and US$245.9 million from multilateral partners.
In 2022, support from the development partners is projected at US$761.5 million, broken down as US$274.3 million and US$487.2 million from multilateral and bilateral partners, respectively.
The PVO Amendment Bill was gazetted in November 2021 and seeks to amend the PVO Act to impose new restrictions, but civil society organisations have warned the proposed amendments will constrain their work and violate human rights, while negatively affecting communities who depend on their activities.
They also said the measures will hit the already struggling economy which relies on development partners to bridge yawning funding gaps due to the country’s inadequate budget and resources.
The Bill also prohibits trusts that are registered with the High Court, but are not registered PVOs, from collecting contributions from the public or from outside Zimbabwe for any of the purposes specified in the definition of “private voluntary organisation”, that is charitable purposes, social welfare assistance, legal aid and animal welfare.
According to the 2022 monetary policy statement, NGOs are the third-biggest earners of foreign currency in the country after export proceeds and diaspora remittances. Total foreign currency receipts from NGOs rose by 50.5% from US$647.78 million in 2020 to US$975.16 million in 2021.
Foreign currency is critical in sustaining the forex auction system. Any disruptions in the activities of NGOs through legal and/or non-legal means could result in the country losing out massively, the report warns.
Ziyambi said the government “looks with extreme disfavour upon PVOs that abuse their resources by acting in a partisan manner, for instance by favouring communities on the basis of their supposed or expected political affiliation.”