19 November 2018

Malawi 'Waging War On Civil Society' - NGO Bill Harbours Grave Consequences for the People

Photo: Brian Dell
View east into Area 2 of Old Town Lilongwe, Malawi.

Regional human rights defenders have accused Malawi government's attempts to close down human rights NGOs through its draconian proposed Bill that regulates the work of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The proposed amendment gives the government sweeping powers to interfere with the operations of any NGO in Malawi through a government-appointed sole regulatory authority with the power to fine and deregister non-compliant organisations .

The Bill seeks amendment to the NGO Act to repeal legal functions of the Council for NGOs in Malawi (Congoma) and upgrade the NGO Board into government-appointed regulatory body.

Human rights groups and activists in the country and the rest of the Southern Africa have observed that the proposed legislation is sign of a growing crackdown on dissent against government.

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network chairperson Arnold Tsunga argue that legislation makes it harder for charities to operate and seen as a measure for government "waging war on the civil society."

He said any legislation governing the operation of NGOs must be consistent with Malawi's human rights obligations.

Tsunga saidthe law would also enable the government to intervene in the reasonable activities of NGO.

Malawi's Human Rights Defenders Coalition Timothy Mtambo also expressed concern with the proposed law , saying it would place each and every NGO "at the whim of the government."

Mtambo said a vibrant civil society is "essential to a functioning democracy."

"This is an effort to shrink citizen's voice to demand accountability from the government, this is a repressive law that is against the constitutional and international best practices of NGO laws," said Mtambo.

Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu, defended the Bill, saying government is not targeting anyone that the proposed legislation had been drafted after consultations

Tembenu said the law reform which prescribed fines of up to K15 million for non-compliant NGOs , would make CSOs accountable to Malawians.

"They do things in the name of Malawians, so we want them to account for that," he said.

Attorney General Kalekeni Kaphale in the published bill on Malawi government Gazette said the law seeks to amend the NGO Act "by promoting freedom of association as enshrined in Section 32 of the Constitution, removing the requirement for mandatory double registration; and enhancing the role of NGO Board in the oversight and regulation of NGOs in Malawi."

The bill is expected to be discussed during the next Parliament meeting scheduled for Monday.

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