By Faith Chimutsa
Veritas says it will challenge the PVO Bill at the Constitutional Court should parliament pass it into law an official told media last week.
Veritas Programs Officer Lizwe Jamela said the Bill breached various sections of the Zimbabwe constitution.
The sections being breached are Sec 58 of the Constitution says every person has the right to freedom of association and the right not to associate with others,Sec 68 of the Constitution indicates that every person has a right to administrative conduct that is lawful, prompt, efficient, reasonable, proportionate, impartial and both substantively and procedurally fair and Sec 86 of the Constitution says the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in this Chapter for example the Declaration of Rights may be limited only in terms of a law of general application and to the extent that the limitation is fair, reasonable, necessary and justifiable in a democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom .
Jamela added that any limitation on those rights and freedoms must not impose greater restrictions on freedom of association than necessary to achieve its purpose, and must be the lest restrictive means of achieving the purpose of the limitation.
“It extends the scope of the PVO Act to cover any persons, legal arrangements, bodies, associations or institutions which the Minister may declare to be vulnerable to misuse for money-laundering or terrorist financing. He does not have to give notice of his declaration.,” he said.
Veritas has a proposed draft Bill which they feel could be used as an alternative, the proposed Bill, as amended, will have dire consequences of restricting civic space and access to humanitarian support services in Zimbabwe.
Under the circumstances, CSOs call for the withdrawal of the Bill, and the initiation of a comprehensive process of fresh consultations to be held with the public and CSOs on a new draft Bill that will protect citizen’s fundamental rights.
Under the current PVO Act that would not be compliant with international norms and standards but were not revised by the Amendment Bill. In particular, the Amendment Bill retains registration requirement for PVOs to operate in Zimbabwe.
After his visit to Zimbabwe in 2019, the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association recommended the State to “amend the Private Voluntary Organizations Act in full consultation with civil society and other relevant stakeholders and avoid enacting regressive legislation in the future.”
In particular, to adopt a regime of declaration or notification whereby an organization is considered a legal entity as soon as it has notified its existence to the regulating authorities ensure that the registration procedure for national and international organizations is more simple and expeditious ,facilitate the ability of organizations to access funding and resources without interference and avoid the use of excessive sanctions, particularly incarceration for omissions in law.
Veritas Director, Val Ingham -Thorpe said countries should review the adequacy of laws and regulations that relate to non-profit organisations which the country has identified as being vulnerable to terrorist financing abuse. Countries should apply focused and proportionate measures, in line with the risk-based approach, to such non-profit organisations to protect them from terrorist financing abuse.
“PVOs play a vital role in many economies and social systems, so any measures to control money-laundering and terrorist financing must be risk-based to deal with identified threats.
“Since not all PVOs are inherently high risk and some may represent little or no risk at all countries should identify which subset of organisations fall within the FATF definition .
“Focused measures to deal with money-laundering and terrorist financing should not disrupt or discourage PVOs’ legitimate activities but rather promote accountability and confidence among PVOs and the donor community “,she explained.
Government is accused of attempting to use the Bill to shut down civil society organisations deemed to be anti establishment and working to effect regime change.