Zimbabweans To Pay Dearly For ‘Draconian’ PVO Bill

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By The Standard

PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has been accused of seeking to  sacrifice the lives of millions of people that survive on humanitarian aid by trying to ban non-governmental organisations through a controversial new law.

Indications show that nearly US$1 billion that come into the country annually for social support schemes will stop once the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill is passed into law.

Government provides less than US$100 million per year for social support programmes that includes health, education, water and sanitation, among others, according to World Bank statistics

Government plans to railroad the PVO Bill that will amend the Private Voluntary Organisations Act, giving the State unfettered powers to snoop into operations of civic society organisations (CSOs), trusts and other humanitarian organisations.

The Bill, that effectively criminalises the operations of CSOs, proposes harsh penalties including closure of the organisations and jail terms of up to a year for breach of its provisions.

The Bill was gazetted in November 2021.

The European Union (EU) has said the PVO Bill was one of the reasons sanctions on Zimbabwe were renewed.

Parliament has started holding public hearings on the Bill.

A research commissioned by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in collaboration with the Southern Defenders and Accountability Lab revealed that Mnangagwa will be sacrificing the lives of millions for political expediency in pushing for the Bill.

According to the research titled: Punching Holes Into a Fragile Economy – The Possible Economic Impact of the Private Organisations Amendment Bill, millions of Zimbabweans who have been surviving on donor support would be exposed to deep hardships.

NGOs provide an estimated US$1 billion annually for social support programmes.

“Owing to the huge financing gap in most sectors of the economy, the country has had to rely on donor financing from international NGOs and development partners,” the report says.

According to World Bank estimates, NGOs contributed  about US$800 million towards social protection while the government only contributed US$90 million,” the report released last week reads in part.

“For instance, according to the 2022 national budget statement, during the period January to September 2021, the country received development assistance amounting to US$647.8 million, of which US$401.9 million was from bilateral partners and US$245.9 million from multilateral partners.

“NGOs have contributed significantly towards addressing the financing needs/gaps.

“Donor financing far outstrips government financing in all health, education, food security, and social protection. Health financing is dominated by donors, who contribute 35%.

“Restricting NGO activities will have severe consequences on the country’s already fragile economy,” the report says.

Government has defended the Bill as necessary to comply with recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money-laundering and terrorist funding.

Research shows that terrorism and terrorist financing threat in Zimbabwe was rated lowly by FATF, supporting the view that Mnangagwa’s troubled government was only targeting NGOs because their advocacy  and watchdog work threatens his political power.

Zanu PF spokesperson Chris Mutsvangwa last week said his party did not care that the Bill would threaten 18 000 jobs.

Zanu PF, under the late former president Robert Mugabe, tried to introduce the Bill  way back in 2004, but Mugabe then did not sign the Bill into law when every process was complete.

But 17 years later, Mnangagwa, in 2020, after taking over power in a coup in 2017, threatened to bring back the Bill to deal with “errant” NGOs allegedly meddling in politics with the hope of driving a regime change agenda.

Mnangagwa’s first step was to order NGOs to report to provincial ministers, a decision thrown out by the courts after a challenge by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

In recent months, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has been attacking NGOs for conducting voter education and Mnangagwa is plotting to shut NGOs as a way of thwarting dissenting voices under the guise of curbing terrorism financing.

Zimbabwe already has money laundering and counter-terrorism laws including the Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act; the Bank Use Promotion Act; the Suppression of Foreign and International Terrorism Act; and the Criminal Law Code.

“This (Bill) will even increase the risk of fraud and money laundering and achieve the opposite of what the Bill aims to curb.

“Furthermore, once NGOs get their licences revoked, some organisations might continue to operate informally which makes them more susceptible to money laundering and terrorism financing risk,” the report added.

“Zimbabwe is experiencing economic hardships and disruptions in NGO activities and financing will likely worsen the poverty situation and threaten the development gains that have been made to date.”

In Zimbabwe, NGO’s have been seen as contributing towards employment creation, tax revenues mobilisation, foreign currency generation, provision of social protection and humanitarian assistance, growth in the local tourism sector, and overall economic growth and development.

“Importantly, a lot of the gains that have been registered as key health and social indicators have been on account of the partnership between the government and NGOs. About 85% of all hospital beds in Zimbabwe of which 60% of these are in disadvantaged rural areas (were donations),” the report reads.

“Government’s contribution of US$80 public financing per person but this should be at US$1 080 public health financing per person so NGOs have to chip in to supplement meagre government contribution.

“The country’s Covid-19 response was mainly sustained by donor funds, while the NGOs have managed to ensure that people living with HIV have access to treatment, reducing the country’s prevalence rate. NGOs have also reduced the country’s morbidity rate.”

NGOs are the third biggest earners of foreign currency in the country after export proceeds and diaspora remittances.

Total foreign currency receipts from NGOs rose by 50.5% from US$647.78 million in 2020 to US$975.16 million in 2021.

Foreign currency receipts from the NGOs constituted about 10% of total foreign currency receipts and more than 10 times what came in through foreign investment. Foreign currency receipts from NGOs have gone a long way in improving the foreign currency supply in the economy.