Malawi: Donors Weigh in On NGO Act Amendment - Bill Has Potential to Limit Civic Space

20 January 2021

Key development partners (DPs) have weighed in on the proposed NGO Act Amendment Bill, recommending that Non-Governmental Organizations Board (NGO) Board of Malawi should conduct comprehensive and inclusive consultations before taking the Bill to parliament.

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.

But the donors feel that the proposed Bill is still not sensitive to human rights and has potential to limit civic space.

The concerned DPs include the European Union (EU), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Irish Aid, therefore, recommended that there should be comprehensive consultations before the Bill goes to the National Assembly for debate.

Both UNDP Portfolio Manager Responsible Institutions and Citizen Engagement, Dr. Agnes Chimbiri, and NGO Board Director of Corporate Services, Linda Njikho-Lungu, confirmed that the meeting took place.

However, Chimbiri said she was not mandated to speak to the media. She referred the matter to UN Resident Coordinator to Malawi, Maria Jose Torres Macho, who could not be immediately reached for a comment.

On the other hand, Njikho-Lungu said the main fear among the DPs was that hasty changes to the Act could limit civic space for the civil society organizations (CSOs) in Malawi.

"They made some suggestions, which include the review of the proposed name NGO Regulatory Authority. The DPs felt that the word 'authority' is instilling fear among sector players; hence, we need to review it," she said.

Njikho-Lungu added that the DPs recommended that a clear roadmap on the amendment Bill and consultation meetings done expeditiously.

She said the donors recommended that the Board should get inputs from Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Ministry of Civic Education and National Unity, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Malawi Police Service and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB), among other players.

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