By MELISA CHATIKOBO

CIVIL Society Organisations (CSOs) have called on the government to withdraw the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill 2021, which they claim did not factor in views from members of the public.

Last year the government gazetted the PVO Bill which regulates the operations of civil society organisations. Among other things, the bill seeks to curb money laundering, financing of terrorism.

Since December last year, CSOs have presented several oral and written submissions, highlighting their concerns to Parliament as they argue that the Bill limits their operations.

 In a statement yesterday, CSOs argued that the government did not consider some crucial public views in the Bill.

“The consultation processes that were conducted in relation to the original draft of the Bill were conducted in bad faith, as CSOs’ concerns have been entirely disregarded, with the proposed amendments introducing even greater restrictions to the rights to freedom of association and administrative justice.

“The Bill that was presented to the public has now been altered significantly and must be taken back to the public for consultations as mandated by the Constitution. Without this, the public’s due process and constitutional rights have been violated.

 “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,” the statement reads.

CSOs representatives said in April they had engaged the leader of government business in Parliament, Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi to address their concerns but their effort has been fruitless.

“These concerns include the compulsory registration of all NGOs, the extensive ministerial powers to interfere with internal governance of CSOs, criminalisation of political support, harsh criminal penalties and the unilateral designation of organisations as being at high risk of terrorism abuses, among others.

“In that meeting, Ziyambi agreed to introduce progressive amendments suggested by CSOs, such as introducing transitional provisions granting those CSOs currently operating lawfully but not registered as PVOs six months to regularise their registration under the new Act.

 “However, to the surprise of CSOs, the amendments that have now been introduced do the very opposite of what the minister had committed to. The extensive amendments to the PVO Amendment Bill are even more draconian and tantamount to introducing a completely new Bill. This removes the participatory element of our democracy,” they said.

The concerned CSOs includes Amnesty International – Zimbabwe, Civic Education Network Trust, Counselling Services Unit and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, among others.