Dodoma — The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Dr Tulia Ackson, said on Monday, June 24, 2019 that the legislative body was not aware that 40 Members of Parliament (MPs) attended a capacity building seminar for Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) at the weekend.
The seminar in question sought to equip the lawmakers with what it takes for them to effectively debate the contentious bill that will redefine how NGOs operate in Tanzania.
This comes at a time when the government is advancing the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) No.3 Bill of 2019 in Parliament as it seeks to create a clear difference in meaning (and therefore operations) of a company on one side and an NGO as well as a Society on the other.
The amendments will affect the Companies Act, Cap. 212, the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, Cap. 218, the Films and Stage Plays Act, Cap. 230, the Non-Governmental Organizations, Act Cap. 56, the Societies Act, Cap. 337, the Statistics Act Cap.351, the Tanzanian Shipping Agencies, Act Cap.415 and the Trustees' Incorporation Act Cap.318.
Against this background, over 30 NGOs met here on Saturday where they issued a statement, describing the amendments as a 'dark cloud' in Tanzania's development endeavors.
The meeting was followed by a seminar on Sunday, June 23, 2019 where up to 40 MPs attended.
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That saw a section of media outlets (not The Citizen) reporting that some MPs had been bribed so they can thwart the passing of the amendments in Parliament.
That did not go down well with some MPs who thought the Speaker's guidance in Parliament on Monday, June 24, 2019, saying the newspapers (not The Citizen) had defamed them and 'disrespected' the legislative body.
Ms Salome Makamba (Special Seats - Chadema) shared similar sentiments. She stood on the point of order, under Order 51 (V) of Parliamentary Standing Orders and asked the Speaker's guidance, saying the 'contentious publications' had acted in a manner that was in contempt of the legislative body and therefore, deserved to be grilled.
"Yesterday, the Parliament invited 40 MPs to a capacity building seminar on the bill. It is a shame that some media outlets and social media platforms are reporting that the MPs have been bribed so they can thwart the passing of the bill in question," she said, asking the Deputy Speaker's guidance on what the legislative body should do against the publications.
But in response, Dr Ackson said the Parliament was not aware that 40 MPs had taken part in a capacity building seminar that deliberated on the bill in question.
She said MPs, who felt offended by the publications, should seek legal redress.
On Saturday, representatives from 30 NGOs vehemently opposed the amendments.
"There is not even a single positive side in the proposed amendments," said the executive director for Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Ms Anna Henga.
Executive Director for Twaweza, Mr Aidan Eyakuze, said there were some positive aspects in the amendments but exuded his disquiet with the implementation part of it.
"This is why we needed time before the amendments reach this stage. Some of the sections even go as far as restricting people's rights to freedom of expression... .Some of the sections may create problems even in government because within two months, they will have de-registered some of the NGOs which are here to help the needy," he said.
The HakiElimu Programmes head, Mr Godfrey Boniventura, expressed dismay on the fact that the amendments were being processed at a certificate of urgency. He asked the government to explain its intentions.
The NGOs' meeting comes within just hours after Amnesty International voiced its concern, noting that The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019), would restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, including placing impermissible restrictions on civil society organizations and entrenching censorship.
"The Tanzania government must allow for meaningful participation in law making processes by giving people adequate time to review, collate and present their views on a law that will impact their lives enormously," said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.