THE banning of non-governmental organisations through the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) Amendment Bill will have dire economic and political consequences for Zimbabwe that could spiral into a serious crisis, human rights groups have warned.
The government is pushing for the PVOs Act to monitor and ban NGOs perceived to be political. Parliamentary hearings have already begun, although wracked with violence in some parts of the country where suspected Zanu PF activists have been accused of trying to block others from contributing.
According to a report released this month on the possible economic impact of the PVOs Amendment Bill gazetted in November 2021, by the Southern Defenders, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Accountability Lab Zimbabwe, the country is set to lose millions of United States dollars by banning the NGOs who are contributors of the much-needed foreign currency in the country.
“By restricting the activities of NGOs, the amendment Bill will likely restrict political and economic freedom in the country. The country already performing badly in the major economic indices,” the report reads in part.
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 in 2021. This foreign currency is critical in sustaining the foreign currency 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 noted.
The PVOs Amendment Bill seeks to comply with recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to streamline administrative procedures and allow for the efficient regulation and administration of NGOs and prevent them from undertaking political lobbying.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has on several occasions accused NGOs of involvement in politics and pushing people against the government while pursuing a regime change agenda.
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”.
The report also noted that a ban on NGOs will harm the tourism sector which depends on activities of the organisations for income.
“Moreover, according to the African Sun Limited 2020 Integrated Annual Report, conferencing business from NGOs have consistently anchored their city and country hotels segment,” the report read in part.
“Clearly, NGOs are important agents in the country’s development process. Strong partnerships with NGOs and other non-profit-organisations such as trade unions will strengthen the implementation of the NDS 1 (National Development Strategy) as well as attainment of Vision 2030.”
Indications made during the public hearings on the PVOs Amendment Bill show that many people are opposed to it, citing dire consequences if the proposals are allowed to prevail.
Some NGOs have given 10 reasons they say the PVOs Amendment Bill is bad for Zimbabwe, saying it violates the constitution.
“NGOs are forms of social participation, expression and association. The Bill imposes unfair restrictions on NGOs and their activities hence violating the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of association, assembly, expression and related political rights,” the groupings said.
The Bill, those opposed to it argue, was a way to criminalise human rights work in Zimbabwe, including silencing lawyers who represent victims of political violence.
“By proposing harsh penalties, including jail time of up to one year for NGOs deemed to support political activity, the Bill is criminalising human rights work.”
The Bill, the observers said, paralyses humanitarian work that will see thousands of families that depend on food aid from NGOs facing starvation.
“Corruption and violence will increase as NGOs help put pressure on the government to advance good governance and hold leaders to account. They document violence and corruption. Without this pressure, leaders will be free to steal with no questions asked. Those who ask questions will be jailed and there will be no human rights lawyers to help them.”
The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has condemned violent attacks on some of the hearings, saying the continued disruption of hearings is uncalled for.
“We note with great concern that Zanu PF continues to use violence and intimidation to ensure they dominate proceedings during the hearings in an attempt to push for amendments to the PVOs Act.”
On Monday, the grouping of over 30 NGOs said their member, Masvingo Centre for Research and Advocacy (MACRAD)’s director Ephraim Mthombeni was attacked by alleged Zanu PF activists who were targeting citizens opposing amendments to the PVOs Act.
“The attack on Mthombeni followed similar incidents of violence in Highfield and Rusape on February 28, 2022 during the PVO Amendment Bill public hearings,” the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said.