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PVO Bill damages Zim image



LEGAL grouping Veritas says the government’s newly introduced Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment (PVO) Bill has unconstitutional provisions and is likely to tarnish Zimbabwe’s international image.


Veritas says the Bill has the potential of inhibiting efforts to get debt relief and attract foreign investment into the country.

The ruling Zanu PF, which won a two-thirds majority after controversial recalls by Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) self-proclaimed secretary general Sengezo Tshabangu, has been pushing for the Bill, to ban “rogue” non-governmental organisations, which it says are being used as a stalking horse by the West to fund opposition political activity in the country.

Last week, a new PVO Bill was published in the Government Gazette to replace the first version published in November 2021, which lapsed upon the dissolution of the 9th Parliament before the 23 August 2023 general elections.

 In its latest analysis, Veritas said the new Bill has done little to drift from the previously condemned one, and is likely to harm the country’s international image. With unsustainable debt, the country has been failing to get funding from key international financial institutions like the World Bank.

“Some effort has been made to remove the more egregious inconsistencies and drafting errors contained in the previous Bill, but the new Bill remains completely unwelcome. Within Zimbabwe its provisions will be used as weapons against civil society, free speech and freedom of association,” Veritas said.

 “Internationally it will tarnish Zimbabwe’s image and inhibit the Government’s efforts to get debt relief and much-needed foreign investment. Even if it is not enacted, the damage will have been done, because many observers will take it as revealing the government’s attitude towards independent civil society organisations in particular and constitutionalism in general.” In July last year, the European Union Delegation to Zimbabwe indicated that the country’s international diplomatic re-engagement effort could suffer a major setback after President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed the much-condemned “Patriotic Act” which is projected to further shrink civic space. In reaction, the EU indicated that the Act is regressive in Zimbabwe’s bid to clear its tainted image.

“Zimbabwe as a sovereign country has committed in the Arrears Clearance process to enhancing respect for freedoms of association, assembly and expression, as well as building trust with the international community. Today’s legislation (Patriotic Act) sends a political signal in the opposite direction,” said the EU via its official X handle.

 Zimbabwe’s human rights record has been the major stumbling block in the re-engagement drive. For instance, human rights have been labelled as key in Zimbabwe’s bid to rejoin the Commonwealth.

The country quit the Commonwealth in 2003 after clashes between the club of mostly former British colonies and the then president Robert Mugabe over policy conflicts, human rights abuses and violation of the group’s democratic values.

However, Veritas said the new Bill has failed to correct errors from the initial one, which was roundly criticised for attempting to close the civic space.

 “The lapsing of the old Bill gave the Government an opportunity to rethink how PVOs should be regulated and to prepare a fresh Bill taking into account criticisms levelled against the old one. Regrettably, the Government has not taken the opportunity,” reads the analysis.  

“The new Bill makes no important changes, and does not even correct all the obvious errors that peppered the old one. For example, it retains the following nonsensical definition of ‘material change’ in clause 6: ‘material change’ in relation to the amendment of the particulars of the original application for registration means — (a) any change in the constitution governing the private voluntary organisation concerning what happens upon the termination for any reason of the private voluntary organisation with respect to the disposal of its assets on the date of its termination’.”

Another criticism has arisen on a new clause that seeks to extend the application of the Act to cover persons, legal arrangements, bodies, associations or institutions which the minister declares to be vulnerable to misuse, or at high risk of being misused by terrorist organisations. 

“This is unconstitutional for at least two reasons: 1. The Minister will not have to give notice to the persons, legal arrangements etc. before declaring them to be vulnerable to terrorist misuse, nor will the Minister have to invite them to make representations before making the declaration. This infringes section 68 of the Constitution which guarantees everyone the right to administrative conduct that is procedurally fair,” reads the analysis.

“A declaration by the Minister will extend the Act to cover institutions that are not currently within its ambit, and will impose additional controls over them that are not currently laid down in the Act.  A declaration will therefore constitute a major amendment of the Act, which the Minister will make by regulations.  It will amount to an exercise of Parliament’s primary law-making power which, in terms of section 134 of the Constitution, cannot be delegated to a Minister.”

 Findings by an independent think-tank, the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI), in its 2022 report titled: “Civic Space Contestation Ahead of 2023” have shown that Mnangagwa has a worse track record in stifling civic space than his predecessor, Mugabe.

The organisation wrote an analysis of the civic space between 2014-2021 by contrasting Mugabe’s final four years in power ahead of the 2018 elections, and Mnangagwa’s initial four years in power ahead of the 2023 elections.

The findings showed a 2% increase in civic space and state freedom during Mnangagwa’s first year in power, compared to Mugabe in 2014.

The year 2019 saw a 13% decline in state freedom from 44% in 2014 under Mugabe to 31% in 2019, which was Mnangagwa’s second year in power.

The report revealed there was parliamentary capture, with Zanu PF taking control of almost two-thirds of the National Assembly, which makes it easy for Mnangagwa to pass legislation deemed undemocratic.

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