BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA
THE recently-gazetted Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill violates the Constitution, legal think-tanks said yesterday, adding that it failed to explain why government wanted to revamp the administration of civic society organisations (CSOs).
Government gazetted the PVO Amendment Bill on November 5, whose provisions will adversely affect and effectively eliminate organisations involved in promoting and defending human rights in the country.
These organisations view themselves as non-partisan. But government claims, without evidence, that many of them have abused Western donor funds to support the opposition.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and legal experts argue that if enacted, the Bill would leave political victims more vulnerable.
Legal think-tank Veritas said the Bill was not clearly drafted and was incoherent to the effect that it encouraged government officials to make unduly repressive interpretations, would stifle democracy and economic development.
Veritas said the proposed PVO Amendment Bill was in contravention of the provisions of the declaration of rights in the Constitution.
Government has on several occasions threatened to deregister CSOs, accusing them of dabbling in opposition
politics and being hostile to President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF party.
“The reason for regulating and controlling PVOs is not clearly stated in the Bill. As we have pointed out, the Act (being amended) does not say why PVOs must be registered and controlled in order to carry on their activities,” Veritas said in statement.
“The reason we inferred, to ensure they do not squander or misuse the funds entrusted to them, is a constitutionally valid reason, but there is nothing in the Act to prevent the PVO board from refusing to register a PVO for other reasons indeed, section 9(5)(b) of the Act provides the PVO board with another vaguely expressed reason — that the PVO does not comply with the provisions of the Act. This is too vague to pass constitutional muster.”
Veritas also said PVOs are protected by section 58(1) of the Constitution, which gives every person the right to freedom of association and would be violated by the proposed amendments.
“Branches of PVOs can be declared to be independent. Under section 18 of the Act, the registrar can determine that branches of PVOs are independent PVOs if he or she thinks they are not under the control of their parent PVO. Such a determination has the effect of rendering the branch illegal (because it is not registered) and it can be made without consulting the parent PVO or the branch concerned, and without affording them an opportunity to make representations. This violates section 68 of the Constitution, which guarantees to everyone, including PVOs, the right to procedurally fair administrative action.”
Human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama described the PVO Amendment Bill as government’s move to clamp down on dissent and shrink the democratic space ahead of the 2023 elections.
“For quite a very long time in Zimbabwean history, we have seen political activists and rights defenders who have been persecuted being offered free legal representation in court by civic society organisations,” Muchadehama said.
Muchadehama said governments that have enacted the PVO Act, or similar laws were synonymous with autocracy and dictatorship.