By Ketty Nyoni

THE European Union (EU) has urged the government to consult stakeholders on the Private Voluntary Organisation Bill, adding it has the potential of violating citizens’ constitutional rights.
Addressing journalists during a courtesy call to National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda, pictured, in Harare yesterday, outgoing EU ambassador Timo Olkkonen said there was a need for the consultations.
“We do have concerns over the PVO Bill that it would unnecessarily limit the freedom of civil societies, freedom of assembly and there might be too many limitations on how they could conduct their business.
“There might also be some issues about how much it is in compliance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe in upholding the rights of citizens to associate. There is a need for time for consultations with different stakeholders and parties so that they are comfortable with the law that would be enacted.
“It is also important that this amendment bill is not unnecessarily rushed, and time is taken to take different considerations into account,” Olkkonen said.
He also said the PVO Bill if enacted into law had the potential of affecting the funding mechanisms in the country
“There are questions around whether it is excessive in terms of implementing the recommendations of the financial action task force in terms of providing transparency for funding. We are all for transparency, we are all for democratic control but our concern with this legislation is that the baby will be thrown out with the bumbus bottle.”
Should it be adopted, the amended law would provide the government with wide powers to interfere in civil society organisations’ governance and activities.  PVOs would need the government’s permission for any “material change” in the organisations, including changes to internal management and funding.
 Moreover, the government would have the power to designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse. That would allow them to revoke their registration or even to replace their leadership.
Additionally, the new bill would include harsh penalties, including imprisonment, for administrative offences related to the registration of PVOs, The bill also has provisions that allow for the banning of civil society organisations from “engaging in political activities”.
Meanwhile, Olkkonen also made calls for an open democratic space, for different political parties as the country heads towards the 2023 general elections.
“As EU we hope that as Zimbabwe heads for elections, the democratic space will remain open for different political parties to contest in a free environment, much like what happened in 2018, where the campaign period was to a very large extend free and there were opportunities  to assembly and to meet, which is very important for democratic processes
“We hope that this will be something that will be replicated as the country heads for elections next year,” Olkkonen said.
On his part Mudenda expressed gratitude to the EU for the role it has been playing in the country.
“We are very grateful for the role the EU has been playing in capacitating the work of Parliament through our committees. Several grants have been given by the EU in various sectors of the economy, ‘’ Mudenda said.