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Change Organization Urges Zimbabweans to Sign Petition to Stop Mnangagwa from Signing 'Dreaded' PVO Bill Into Law

President Emmerson Mnangagwa
President Emmerson Mnangagwa

WASHINGTON - Change Organization-led by a Zimbabwean citizen, Simba Tembo, has set up a petition online urging President Emmerson Mnangagwa not to sign into law the country’s dreaded Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill, which was passed recently by the Senate.

In the petition titled ‘President Mnangagwa #Reject the PVO Bill’, which has so far been signed by almost 400 people drawn from many countries, the organization is seeking at least 500 signatures for it to be recognized and adopted by Zimbabwean authorities.

The petition reads in part, “We petition Your Excellency to refuse to lend your signature to the Private Voluntary Organizations (PVO) Amendment Bill H.B. 10 of 2021, which was passed by the Senate on 2 February 2023. We believe this law is one that will have perhaps the most far-reaching negative implications to the welfare of the generality of Zimbabweans, since your assumption of office. As a listening President, an attribute you have constantly reminded us of, we hope and believe you will listen to the truths regarding what this kind of law will cost.”

“Community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations in their various outfits provide complimentary support to government-led interventions. On several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from reducing child and maternal mortality to reducing malaria and HIV infections, Zimbabwe stands with pride for scoring high, on account of the long-standing partnership between government, development partners and non-governmental organisations.”

It further said some national goals won’t be achievable without the help of non-governmental organization.

“Development partners and civil society organisations are providing significant social protection and humanitarian assistance to Zimbabweans in all corners of the country. Our fiscal space simply does not allow for government to shoulder this responsibility single-handedly, given the state of the economy. A disruption of the above has far-reaching implications, the contours of which we may be unable to see now. Avoiding such implications would be the expedient and responsible thing to do.”

Change Organization said the PVO Amendment Bill in its current form is problematic in multiple ways, including concentration of power in the hands of a Registrar of PVOs and dissolution of the PVO Board, “with all powers to register, regulate and deregister being put in the hands of one official.”

It noted that there are restrictions in receiving funding which is vaguely stated as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘immoral’ and also some numerous civil penalties and criminal sanctions for non-compliance.

“There are provisions which violate the freedoms of association and the right to administrative justice. This includes the compulsory registration of civil society organisations as PVOs, and restrictions to trusts and universitas organisations. Freedom of association and the right to administrative justice are both standards under our own Constitution (section 58 and section 68, respectively), as well as international law to which Zimbabwe subscribes, which include the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).

“The Bill facilitates arbitrary decision-making regarding PVOs to be vested in the Minister and the Registrar. This includes the unilateral and unguided powers by the Minister responsible for PVOs to designate organisations as high risk, and the powers of the Minister to replace the Executive Committees of PVOs. This violates section 68 of the Zimbabwe Constitution as well as Article 26 of the ICCPR and Article 3 and 7 of the ACHPR, which guarantee the right to administrative conduct that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.”

Bill, said Change Organization in the petition, further criminalizes PVOs that engage “in what is vaguely stated as ‘political support’, infringing on section 58s and 67 of the Zimbabwe Constitution that guarantee freedom of assembly and association and political rights.

“In terms of international law obligations, the Bill contravenes Article 25 of the ICCPR, Article 13 and 28 of the ACHPR, Principle 4.1.1 of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and Article 12 of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG). These international instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party, recognize civil society organisations and their role in advancing these rights.”

The organization reminded Mnangagwa that there has been continuous regional and international outcry over the ripple effects of the Bill if it is passed as law.

“In December 2021, four United Nations special mandate holders wrote to you expressing their reservations on this proposed law, and outlining the ways in which many provisions of the Bill violate international law and standards. These four special mandate holders are the Special Rapporteur on the freedom on the rights to freedom of assembly and association; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

“In addition to the violation of international law, the letter detailed in clear terms that the vagueness of several clauses in the Bill projects uncertainty on the scope of the law. This makes it difficult for organisations to clearly ascertain their legal obligations and act accordingly. The vagueness can also provide opportunity for broad detrimental interpretation of clauses by relevant administrative and judicial bodies, thus endowing them with wide discretionary powers to apply the law and impose burdensome requirements on a diverse group of community and informal associations that are currently excluded from regulation.”

Change Organization said if the Bill is signed into law, this will have a huge impact on development funds.

“The economic prejudice that the PVO Amendment Bill will have on the country if passed into law cannot be overstated. The country stands to lose up to nearly USD$1 billion in development support when the civil society sector is disrupted, resources which have made the difference between life and death for many citizens.

“We bring to your attention that when this Bill was taken for public hearings, most of those consulted did not support this law. We also bring to your attention that the process of developing this Bill was defective in that citizens were denied of the opportunity to interface with the current text through an inclusive, comprehensive and broad-based process of consultation with citizens.

“…Yet the Constitution of Zimbabwe defines our democracy as one that is underpinned by the participation of citizens in legislative processes through a robust process of consultation. When extensive revisions were made to the Bill in June 2021, public hearings had already been completed using the original version of the Bill, such that members of the public never got the chance to comment on the new provisions of the Bill.”

Change Organization stressed that Mnangagwa will dent his national and international status if he signs the Bill into law.

“Your High Office is charged with signing into law, laws that are citizen centered, which embody the social contract espoused in the Constitution and that adhere to international law obligations. This proposed law is one whose blemish may be impossible to wash from your record. As Zimbabwe seeks re-engagement on the international arena, as Zimbabwe seeks to cast a new trajectory in its post-independent democratic project, signing a regressive law as the PVO Amendment Bill will only amount to shooting ourselves in the foot, regarding the democratic gains we have scored thus far, and the goodwill that has mounted on the international scene. There are more constitutional and less disruptive ways to deal with whichever NGOs are found wanting at law, and that route must be pursued instead. Your Excellency, we humbly submit that the PVO Amendment Bill is not a law you will want to be associated with, now and in your legacy.

President Mnangagwa indicated this week that he will sign the Bill into law without any hesitation.

His government says there are some NGOs that have a regime change agenda and as a result they need to be stopped from interfering in the affairs of the government.

Musa Kika, human rights defender and executive director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, said this petition is seeking what they have been calling for as non-state actors.

“We are seeing this petition from Zimbabweans, this is not the first time we are seeing this. We have been seeing this since the days of the public hearings. The citizens are going to be hurt the most by this kind of law because they are the primary beneficiaries of CSO work and development support.“

Kika said Mnangagwa should heed people’s calls and not go down in history as the president who signed this bill into law.

Kika said those that support the Bill have no idea or are just ignorant of what it will do and how it erases privileges to access help and support from NGOs that have been key in the struggle of the masses.

But Masimba Mavaza of Zanu PF said Mnangagwa should ignore the petition and sign the PVO Bill into law.

“The Bill must be signed by the president. It enables the registrar to decide on which particular organizations should be allowed to participate and operate in Zimbabwe and it’s not peculiar in Zimbabwe alone. We have the same in England. A country must be allowed its own space to run the way people should behave in their own nation.”