The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) Board of Malawi-the registrar and regulator of operations of NGOs in the country-is delighted with what it describes as "high political will" by the Tonse Alliance regime in ensuring that the NGO Act Amendment Bill is expedited.
This follows a directive by Minister Patricia Kaliati-ordering the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and the NGO Board of Malawi to work with the Ministry of Justice and the office of the Attorney General to quickly vacate a court injunction which restrains the tabling in Parliament of the NGO Act Amendment Bill.
The injunction was obtained in November, 2018 by the Council for Non-Govermental Organizations in Malawi (Congoma)-a membership umbrella organization and coordinating body for NGOs-which feels threatened by the bill.
Among other things, the NGO Act Amendment Bill seeks to transform the NGO Board of Malawi into a more powerful NGO regulatory authority.
It also seeks to impose new stiffer penalties and criminalization in case of malpractices by NGOs.
Speaking when she toured NGO Board of Malawi projects in Nsanje and Blantyre on Thursday and Friday, Kaliati said the Congoma injunction is a stumbling block ahead of the NGO Board's resolve to ensure that NGOs are transparent and accountable.
"The injunction must be vacated as soon as possible. And once that is done, I will table the bill in Parliament and make sure that it is passed," Kaliati told Principal Secretary Dr Ken Ndala and NGO Board Of Malawi Chief Executive Officer, Voice Mhone.
Apparently, Kaliati's directive comes after State Vice President, Dr Saulos Chilima, had earlier also expressed to her his desire to have the injunction lifted so that the NGO Act Amendment Bill is implemented as part of the reforms he is championing in the new Tonse Alliance adminstration.
And reacting to the minister's directive in an interview with Nyasa Times, Mhone said her order is timely because it gives credence to efforts of ensuring that the NGO sector is aligned to the plans of the country.
"Now that our own minister has given us deadlines, we will ensure that the injunction is vacated. We will talk with all players within the NGO sector and ensure that we conclude all issues with NGOs as soon as possible.
"We are expectant of the fact that the minister has also committed herself that she is looking forward to tabling the bill in Parliament. The amendment is just one of the reforms that will take place. But we are also looking forward to a complete review of the NGO law-a process we are sure must be done three years from now," said Mhone.
The chief executive officer added that the transformation of the NGO Board of Malawi to an NGO regulatory authority should not worry anyone, saying this is the normal practice all over the World-a practice that "just stamps more authority" on NGO boards so that players in the NGO sector are always reminded that they cannot operate without following the Laws of the Land.
"So it should not be a threat at all. Congoma is registered under the Trustees Act and is allowed perpetually to operate under that regime. Our focus should be on what is in the bill. Why do we need to amend it. As far as we are concerned, the main aim is to align the NGO Act to the Republican Constitution.
"For instance, the current act falls short of promoting freedom of association as guaranteed in the constitution. NGOs annually receive more than one trillion Kwacha which is 60% of the national budget but transparency and accountability to such resources is lacking," he said.
He added that government's dialogue with Congoma over these issues is at the conclusion stage.
According to Mhone, the NGO Act Amendment Bill is-at this stage-a low hanging fruit that can impact highly on the reforms being championed by Vice President Chilima in the Tonse Alliance government.