THE more one reads, analyses and interprets the ill-conceived Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, which could cost Zimbabwe close to US$800 million in development funding this year — with devastating social and economic consequences — if the government persists with its repressive legislative agenda, the more one appreciates its impact, damage and ramifications.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are critical to Zimbabwe’s social and economic development processes given the role they play in filling in gaps in public programmes and service delivery.
They are the third-largest source of foreign currency for Zimbabwe after export proceeds and diaspora remittances. If the NGOs are restricted, the country will sink deeper into a forex crunch amid currency volatility and resurging inflation now scaling 96.4%.
A report, titled Punching Holes to Fragile Economy?, done by Prosper Chitambara, Clinton Musonza and Phillan Zamchiya, and sponsored by Southern African Human Rights Defenders, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and AccountabilityLab Zimbabwe, dissects the economic impact of the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill gazetted in November last year.
It is clear any disruptions of NGO activities, funding and development are likely hit the poor harder and worsen poverty, while taking Zimbabwe, which has no incidences of financing of terrorist groups through these entities, years backwards.
Over the past few decades there has been a significant increase in the involvement of NGOs in the development process. The role of NGOs as agents of development, providers of services including humanitarian assistance, and advocates for vulnerable groups has been recognised and heralded.
In many countries, NGOs are filling the gaps in public programmes and services that states have failed to perform or provide owing to limited fiscal space among others. There is consensus that a successful NGO community is essential for effective and efficient civil society that organises local participation which is essential for sustainable development.
NGOs have also played a critical role in bridging the huge financing gap in important sectors of the economy such as social protection, education, health, water and sanitation, among others. For instance, according to the 2022 National Budget statement, during the period 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.
A further US$202.4 million in development assistance is projected during the fourth quarter of 2021, giving cumulative receipts of US$850.2 million for the year. 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.
Importantly, a lot of the gains that have been registered in key health and social indicators have been on account of the partnerships between the government and NGOs.
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 neg atively affecting communities who depend on their activities. NGOs are playing an increasingly important role as agents of development. The growth and expansion of NGOs across the globe is testament to their increasingly important role in the development process.
It notes effective partnerships between governments and NGOs are recognised as being crucial in accelerating sustainable development. The role of NGOs is even more important in low-income countries where the fiscal space is limited.
Humanitarian organisations offer a broad range of services that include: health, education, social protection, humanitarian assistance, livelihood interventions, emergency response, conflict resolution, democracy building, environmental management, and policy analysis and advocacy.
NGOs across the world help to amplify the voice as well as enable inclusion of marginalised groups, including women, persons with disabilities and minority ethnic groups so that no one is left behind.
In Zimbabwe, NGOs have been important drivers of sustainable development through a number of channels which include: employment creation, contribution to tax revenues, foreign currency receipts, provision of social protection and humanitarian assistance, growth in the local tourism sector and overall economic growth and development.
That Bill should be rejected and abandoned. It is a liability to the economy and the people, especially those who survive on medicines, food aid, income-generating projects and access to social services provided by the NGOs.