Zimbabwe: Harare says to focus on controversial NGO Bill soon

HARARE - The Zimbabwe government will enact new and tougher legislation to govern the operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) once it has finished passing into law a proposed constitutional amendment Bill that it considers more urgent, Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told ZimOnline.

The controversial NGO Bill, that among other severe restrictions proposes banning NGOs from carrying out voter education or receiving foreign funding for humanitarian and governance related work, was passed by Parliament after fierce resistance from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.

But the Bill must return to the House after Mugabe refused to sign it into effective law. Mugabe did not give reasons for declining to sign the law that civic society leaders say could have seen more than half of NGOs operating in the country closing down.

Widespread speculation was that Mugabe might have refrained from signing the law because he did not want to see NGOs closing down en masse at a time Zimbabwe is grappling its worst ever economic and social crisis.

Chinamasa said the dreaded NGO Bill, that also seeks to establish a state-appointed commission to monitor activities of civic bodies, would become law once the government was done with other more "urgent Bills" before it.

"We have not even started looking at the Bill which the President refused to sign," said Chinamasa. "At the moment we have a number of Bills to pass urgently before we start looking at the NGO Bill," he added.

The government wants the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment Bill urgently passed into law to create a new House of Senate that Mugabe publicly said before last March's disputed election that he would use to reward disgruntled lieutenants in his ruling ZANU PF party by appointing them into the second chamber.

National Association of NGOs executive director Jonah Mudewe said civic society groups had not been specifically approached for their views on whatever additions or subtractions Mugabe wants on the NGO Bill. But he said the NGOs were anxiously hoping the revised draft legislation will be "a more tolerable Bill."

Critics of the NGO Bill have said it will be used to silence civic groups perceived to be anti-government in the same way Mugabe and his government have used harsh Press laws to close down four independent newspapers. - ZimOnline