Forum challenges order to stifle NGOs

Forum executove director, Vera Musara

THE Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has given the Insiza district development coordinator an ultimatum to withdraw a circular he issued ordering civic society organisations in the area to halt operations until they present their registration credentials to the local authority.

Last week, the Insiza district development co-ordinator only identified as Z Jusa issued a circular advising all CSOs operating in the district that the local board was conducting an operational audit of civic groups in the area, ordering them to present their credentials to the local authority for the exercise.

The coordinator also ordered the CSOs to stop operations forthwith until such information is presented to them.The letter, dated January 17, 2023, had a list of 22 items that the CSOs were ordered to submit, including intricate details such as banking details and profiles of directors.

The district development co-ordinator also requested the names of directors, sources of funding, names of partners, profiles of implementing partners, photos of administrative staff for police clearance, needs and impact assessment report, and local implementing partners, among others.

Also demanded is the information regarding the relationship between the CSOs and President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s economic blueprint, the National Development Strategy 1 which runs from 2021 to 2025. 

But representing the CSOs from the district, Forum director Vera Musara has given Jusa seven days to retract the circular or face legal action. Musara said calling for NGOs to submit some requirements was ultra vires the law.

She said the local board did not even cite any Act or regulation under which the requirements were being sought.NGOs or CSOs, Musara said, operating as Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) are governed by the Private Voluntary Organisation Act [Chapter 17:05] (the Act) and there were demands to have the NGOs register as PVOs in the PVO (Amendment) Bill.

The Bill was supposed to be signed by August 22 last year.Musara said as of now, the NGOs are under the purview of the Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare ministry, not the Local Government ministry which the local board fell under. 

The district development coordinator, she said, remained restricted to promoting the development of the districts and implementation of development plans.“We represent various NGOs operating in your district who, for fear of victimisation have instructed us not to give you, their names.” Musara wrote in a letter dated January 23, which was served to the Insiza Local Board today.

Acting district development co-ordinator Zibusiso Maphosa received the letter but refused to sign as a way of acknowledging receipt.“We reiterate that your directive is unlawful and of no effect at law. The NGOs have no basis to report to your offices or submit any documentation to you. We advise that you should withdraw your circular and continue to work within the confines of the law.

“Therefore, we have been instructed to give you seven working days to act lawfully and advise the non-governmental organisations in the Insiza district of the correct position of the law.

“We request that you immediately issue a circular to withdraw the one dated 17 January 2024 by Thursday, 1 February 2024.” However, Musara said they were under instruction that should they fail to withdraw the directive, the Forum would take legal action against the council to protect the operations of their clients. 

“The supreme law of the country, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, provides under section 68 that every person has the right to administrative conduct that is lawful. The powers that you purport to exercise are not lawful and are contrary to the Constitution,” she said.

In July 2021, the Forum successfully challenged an order by then Harare provincial co-ordinator Tafadzwa Muguti to have all CSOs operating in Harare report to him as Mnangagwa’s government tried to control and micro-manage their operations.

The forum argued that Muguti’s directives were an act of unlawful interference.

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