NGOs accuse government of extortion

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Humanitarian civic society groups yesterday accused the government and local authorities of extortion and threatening them, violating policies governing their operations.

Addressing a Press briefing in Harare, Human Rights NGO Forum director Abel Chikomo cited the recent ban on 26 NGOs by Masvingo governor Titus Maluleke as a gross violation of NGO operations.

Maluleke accused the humanitarian organisations operating in his drought-prone province of defying an order to register their operations with his office.

Chikomo said recent sentiments by President Robert Mugabe concerning NGOs were consistent with the Zanu PF position and could not be ignored.

“We should take it seriously as a threat and part of the ongoing attack on civil society. Zanu PF is trying its best to ensure that the Government of National Unity collapses so that it can steal a snap election,” he said.

Last week, Mugabe said NGOs were Western-sponsored regime change agents who supported the MDC-T while plotting his downfall.

Chikomo said local authorities were charging between $100 and $1 000 per year for each NGO wishing to carry out humanitarian work in the province, a requirement he described as tantamount to extortion.

“Where an organisation refuses to pay the amount, no Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will be granted and their activities will not be allowed to proceed,” said Chikomo.

“We have also learnt that some organisations on Maluleke’s ban list are organisations which have refused to pay corrupt officials to finalise MoUs,” he said, adding local authorities were only allowed to charge special levies for certain services and cost recovery initiatives.

“They cannot charge for the conclusion of MoUs because there is no cost recovery or service being provided,” he said.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition director McDonald Lewanika said Zanu PF had a consistent pattern of operation.

He said in 2004, the NGO Bill was promulgated ahead of elections scheduled for 2005 and the same thing happened in 2008 in the run-up to the presidential run-off poll.

“Now (as the nation prepares for elections) we have the Maluleke saga. To some extent there is a conspiracy around the work of NGOs, not because they are partisan, but because they are objective,” he said.

He said some legislators in Masvingo were not happy with the governor’s actions which they said were tantamount to “sentencing people to death”.
Maluleke could not be reached for comment yesterday.