13 December 2018

Malawi: Court Shelves Ruling On NGO Bill Case

The High Court in Lilongwe has shelved its ruling on the NGO Bill case in which civil society organisations have dragged parliament to court to stop it from passing the bill into law.

Lawyers Victor Gondwe (R) and Wesley Mwafulirwa (C) for CSOs

Lawyer for the CSOs Wesley Mwafulirwa said the judge shelved the ruling after the interparte hearing on the injunction which the CSOs obtained to restrain the 193 strong House from debating and passing the Bill.

"The court has given the chance to the CSOs to respond to the arguments put forward by the attorney general that courts cannot intervene on issues under discussion in parliament," said Mwafulirwa.

He said the CSOs lawyers will now make arguments over the Attorney General's submissions.

Mwafulirwa said the injunction against parliament still stands until the ruling is pronounced.

In earlier interviews, Gift Trapence, vice chairman of Human Rights Defenders said the law is draconian and can only fit in one party system of government set up not in a democratic Malawi.

"In this era, we cannot have such a law, we will not allow it to be implemented in Malawi," said Trapence.

Among others, the bill provides that the NGO Board will now be turned into a commission whose members will be appointed by a cabinet minister.

Currently, NGOs elect members to the board.

The bill also provides that the current penalty for NGOs who flout the law be raised from K50, 000 to K15 million.

Over 400 NGOs from all over the world have since asked the government to withdraw the bill and make proper consultations before tabling it.

Legislators Lucious Banda from Balaka north (UTM) and Jessie Kabwila of Salima north west (MCP) say they will vote against the bill should the government bring it in this meeting of parliament.

The bill is appearing on order paper, parliament's detailed business of the day.

However, Minister of Information Henry Mussa said those against the bill should have done so before it was presented to parliament for debate.

"This is a bill that has gone through scrutiny at the ministry of Justice and cabinet approved it, the government cannot withdraw it," he said.

Mussa said those against it can lobby parliamentarians to refer it to the relevant committee of parliament for further scrutiny and make changes where necessary.

There has been animosity between the Democratic Progressive Party led government and civil society groups on a number of issues, including the government's decision to stop peaceful protests.


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