Fears around the Private Voluntary Organizations Bill

by Mary Jane

Civic organisations fear that the Private Voluntary Organizations Bill 2021 will pose  challenges in their day to day operations, as the new bill leaves no room for organizations to even slightly shift focus or the agendas stated on their certificate. This, they argue, does not allow organisations to respond to the operating environment, forcing them to be rigid. 

Civic organisations’ representatives converged at a meeting hosted by the Christian Legal Society and Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust  on the 25th of November 2021 at Bulawayo Club. During  the meeting, a dialogue session took place to discuss the Private Organizations Amendment Bill that was recently gazetted by the government on the 5th of November 2021. 

According to government, the main purpose of the bill is to enforce compliance with the international Financial Action Task Force recommendations as well as to prevent PVOs from political lobbying.
Team leader for Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST), Philip Muziri,  said that organisations that deviated from the provisions of the Bill, risked having their operating certificates revoked by the government. 

“Organisations should familiarise themselves with the new Bill as ignorance of the law is not a defense,” he said. 

Another civic leader who leader who participated in the session contended that most PVOs cannot comprehend the provisions of the new bill, and therefore the onus is on the government to explain the soon-to-be passed law to the PVOs.

 “…We are speaking different languages with the government as we do not understand the meaning of the Bill. The government should organize an interface with civic organisations to clarify and address all questions pertaining to the Bill,” he said.

However, Muziri took a positive from the bill as he commended the government for designing the Bill in such a way that it protects vulnerable civic organisations from abuse by powerful members of  society, protecting them from money laundering and also compelling civic organisations to focus on their agenda and their activities without having to dance to the tune of donors.
“Most organizations tend to focus where there is money,” he added. 

Muziri concluded by suggesting that the government should also design transitional mechanisms to cater for the PVOs that were already registered or operating before the Bill was passed so as to enable smooth adaptation to the new Bill. 

The Bill amends the definition of “private voluntary organisation” with a very much wider definition which encompasses some categories of organizations that the current PVO Act is not applicable to such as trusts. This implies that these organizations have to re-register and would be subject to control by the Minister. It allows the Minister to appoint one or more persons as trustees to run the affairs of an NGO for a period not exceeding sixty days if he deems it necessary.

 The Bill also prohibits PVOs from political involvement or from undertaking any political lobbying and will impose penalties for those PVOs that violate the Act in the form of a fine of level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both such fine and such imprisonment.

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