5 December 2018

Malawi Parliament Rebuffs Court On Blocking NGO Regulation Law

First Deputy Speaker of Parliament Esther Cheka Chilenje has said the High Court order obtained by civils society organisations (CSOs) blocking the House from debating a contested bill critics say would hamper charities and NGOs while giving government control over their work in the aid-reliant country is not valid and cannot be served on any legislator while Parliament is meeting.

.Judge Charles Mkandawire ruled on Monday in favour of activists who had sought the injunction of the NGO Amendment Bill arguing the law would create a "monster regulator" and erode democratic freedoms.

The ruling is temporary pending a full hearing of the case, though no date has been set yet.

Activists from the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, Centre for the Development of People, and Youth and Society group also claimed the law was drafted without consulting NGOs.

The First Deputy Speaker said in Parliament on Tuesday that while the court dully exercised its function, Section 5 of the National Assembly (Powers and Priviledge) Act, provides the august House with immunity from interferenace while in session.

"Therefore, such an order may not be served or executed on Parliament. This was also stressed in the judicial review case of 2012 in which Honourable Dr Chidanti Malunga was being charged with contempt of court," said Chilenje.

She was responding to Member of Parliament (MP) for Blantyre West Peter Kumpalume (Democratic Progressive Party - DPP) who suggested that the courts are interfering in the works of the Legislature by granting an injunction to a Bill that was menat to be tabled in Parliament and asked for guidance.

Centre for the Development of People director Gift Trapence said some of the provisions in the Bill will stifle NGO operations.

"It is a bad and draconian law. It had bad sections that will suppress civil liberties such as the right to association," said Trapence.

Directors of charities and NGOs who did not comply with the law as drafted would have faced jail terms of up to seven years and fines.

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