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CSOs raise concerns over draconian amendments to PVO Bill

Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) have noted a lot of gaps on the additional amendments to the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill presented on the National Assembly Order paper by Public Service and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima.

It’s widely believed the PVO bill “exposes the intention of the Zimbabwean government to provide itself with legal tools to control and ultimately silence civil society.”

On 7 June 2022, Mavima submitted significant amendments to the gazetted (PVO Amendment Bill), on the National Assembly Order Paper.

According to the analysis paper prepared by Amnesty International, Legal Resources Foundation, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Veritas and Southern Africa Parliamentary Support Trust, the latest proposed adjustments materially alter the gazetted PVO Amendment Bill.

The document states a number of provisions that will impact negatively on the operation of CSOs if inserted into the PVO Amendment Bill.

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The CSOs are raising a red flag particularly on the Clause 3 of the proposed amendments that seeks to repeal Part II of the PVO Act, removing the PVO Board and “vesting all decision-making powers unilaterally in the Registrar”.

“Increased consolidation of power in the Registrar’s office: CSOs have called for self-regulation and independence of the sector, but the proposed amendments will concentrate even greater discretionary powers in the Office of the Registrar of PVOs,” read the paper.

“Clause 3 of the proposed amendments will repeal Part II of the PVO Act, removing the PVO Board and vesting all decision-making powers unilaterally in the Registrar, who is a member of the Public Service reporting to the Executive branch of government.

“The amendment will effectively transform the Registrar from an administrative official into an executive one, with extensive powers to receive, consider, determine, grant or reject applications for PVO registration.”

They also noted if the amendments are to be adopted, the Registrar will be granted powers ‘to promote and encourage coordination of PVOs with similar objects’.

“This will not only result in greater interference but will lead to effective capture of PCOs as they may be forced to work together with those that are deemed to be politically correct. The amendment does not stipulate the qualifications that should be possessed by the Registrar, or his or her appointment process.

“The Registrar is simply deemed to be the Director of Social Welfare, until another appointment is made. The Minister is granted the power to issue directives to the Registrar, which the Registrar is obliged to implement,” the CSOs stated.

The analysis also established that the proposal for an annual Private Voluntary Organisations Forum will act as a launch pad for close monitoring of the PVOs by the controversial Registrar.

“Establishment of a Private Voluntary Organisations Forum: Clause 3 of the proposed amendments provides for an annual Private Voluntary Organisations Forum to be convened and hosted by the Registrar for the purpose of discussing issues concerning PVOs.

“The purpose of the Forum is unclear, but appears to be to gather information from PCOs, monitor them, and reach resolutions that will impact on the work of PCOs. As the Forum will be entirely controlled by the Registrar, it is a significant departure from CSOs call for independence and self-regulation.

“The participants list and agenda that will be adopted for these Forums is unclear, simultaneously allowing for exclusion of important entities and inclusion of those that may be unnecessary in PVO affairs. The section on the Forum also appears to have been copied from the Gender Commission Act, the Gender Commission being an independent commission, without considering its suitability or necessity in the context of regulating PVOs,” the analysis further noted.