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PVO Bill seen hampering election observers

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THE Private Voluntary Organisations Bill (PVO) is likely to undermine election observation should it be enacted into law, as it seeks to clamp down on independent entities that have been playing an important role in election monitoring, civil society bodies have said.

NATHAN GUMA

Zimbabwe is pressing on with the controversial PVO Bill, which critics say seeks to criminalise the operations of non-governmental organisations.

The PVO Bill is passing through the National Assembly, and the minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Paul Mavima, has published a long list of amendments to the Bill which he proposes to move when it reaches committee stage. The Bill is now in Senate.

The opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) says the proposed law is likely to distort the electoral monitoring process as it will muzzle organisations that have been pointing out malpractices which include violence, among others.

“It is going to limit government scrutiny in the democratic processes. In elections, we have had big civil society organisations that have been speaking out against election malpractices.

“What it means is that these organisations have been speaking in terms of human rights abuses and manipulation of elections whilst protecting the civic rights of the people. As a result, we are targeted by this Bill, and when it comes to elections, they are likely to be

denied the opportunity to be accredited as observers,” Ellen Shiriyedenga, CCC deputy secretary for elections, told The NewsHawks.

Shiriyedenga said there is likely to be a crushing of dissenting voices in the absence of civil society which has been playing an oversight role.

“I have an example of organisations that have been denied the right to observe by-elections and also voter registration without any meaningful justification from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). This is more of a situation of the state ensuring that there is no scrutiny, and clamping down on dissenting voices,” she said.

The commission has since 2018 been refusing to give independent think-tanks the voters’ roll, despite a court order to that effect.

In independent think-tank, the Election Resource Centre (ERC), says it hopes to be registered to observe the 2023 elections.

“We do not believe we will be de-registered, so in that regard we will be able to observe elections. However, we are simply worried by the overarching interest to overly regulate organisations using the PVO Bill.

“There are no major issues coming from organisations that have been working independently. If probably there are issues, the government should be in a position to flag wrongdoing by the involved organisations, so that the defects can be ironed out,” said Solomon Bobosibunu, the ERC programmes manager. 

He said there is no justification for enacting the PVO Bill as Zimbabwe has not been notorious for money laundering and financing of terrorist activity.

“Of course, preventative measures are important, but they ought to have been justified, reasonable and fair. As far as election observation is concerned, we are hopeful to be observing the next elections,” Bobosibunu said.

Zimbabwe is yet to comply with electoral reform recommendations made by the European Union Election Observer Mission after the contentious 2018 polls.

The EU follow-up delegation, which was in the country four months ago, said progress on the implementation of reforms has been limited, with the majority of the priority ones yet to be addressed.

Without the necessary reforms, political players say the country is likely to have another disputed election, should the PVO Bill be enacted into law.  

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