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Harare 'Polishing Up' Controversial NGO Bill


March 7, 2006

Zimbabwe Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on Monday told ZimOnline that the government was just "polishing up" its Non-governmental Organisations (NGO) Bill before the controversial law that will impose severe restrictions on civic bodies is brought back to Parliament for enactment.

Chinamasa, who said the Bill would become law this year but did not give specific dates, said Harare was convinced it needed the controversial law to deal with some NGOs that he claimed were working with foreign powers to topple the government.

He said: "There are still some organisations purporting to be NGOs when their interests are to topple the government with foreign backing. These are the NGOs which the Bill will be aiming to deal with. Otherwise those NGOs involved in humanitarian aid will not be affected."

President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party accuse some NGOs they have not named of using charity work as a pretext to support the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change party and to incite Zimbabweans to rise against the government.

But Mugabe last May refused to sign the NGO Bill which Parliament had passed in December 2004 after marathon debate and fierce opposition from the MDC.

Mugabe, whose signature is necessary for Bills passed by Parliament to become effective law, did not say why he refused to assent to the draft law, with speculation strong that he wanted the law tightened further.

Chinamasa, who is also ZANU PF legal affairs secretary, said after the NGO Bill was rejected by Mugabe it was put on the backburner as the ruling party focused on pushing through Constitutional Amendment Number 17, which recreated the House of Senate and also virtually nationalised all farmland.

The ruling party and the government were now finalising changes to the NGO Bill, Chinamasa said. He would not say what these changes were.

In its original form the NGO Bill among other things proposed to ban all civic bodies from carrying out voter education while those focusing on governance or human rights-related work were to be prohibited from receiving foreign funding.

The Bill also provided for the appointment by the government of an NGO council that would register NGOs and monitor their activities. The council would have powers to deregister and ban NGOs it deemed were not toeing the line.

NGO experts say if the law is eventually enacted, it could force at least 60 percent of civic and aid groups to wind up operations, a development that would affect the monitoring of human rights violations in the country as well as humanitarian work such as HIV/AIDS prevention.