‘NGO Bill to cut 18 000 jobs’

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A worker on the site of luxury condos being built in Miami. There has been a steady gain in hiring during the recovery, but there have not been big improvements in hourly pay. Credit Oscar Hidalgo for The New York Times

BY METHEMBE SIBANDA/PRAISEMORE SITHOLE
ABOUT 18 000 jobs will be lost if the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill, which seeks to regulate operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is passed into law in its current form.

The PVO Amendment Bill was gazetted in 2021 and will amend the Private Voluntary Organisations Act.

Civic society organisations (CSOs), human rights groups and critics have condemned the Bill as an attack on democracy, with the clergy warning that it would disrupt charity and humanitarian services offered by churches.

Government has argued that with recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) — a global watchdog against money-laundering and terrorist financing.

But the latest report commissioned by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum in collaboration with the Southern Defenders and Accountability Lab titled: Punching Holes Into a Fragile Economy – The Possible Economic Impact of the Private Organisations Amendment Bill gazetted in November 2021, warned that about 18 000 jobs in the NGO sector would be lost if the Bill is passed into law.

This would also likely affect hundreds thousands of people who survive through salaries of people employed in the NGO sector.

“The 2019 Labour Force and Child Labour Survey (LFCLS) by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) revealed that the NGO sector in the country employed 1,2% of the total workforce, translating to an aggregate figure of 17 643 formal jobs. Any disruptions of the activities of NGOs could threaten these jobs as well as thousands of livelihoods,” the NGO Forum warned.

The proposed law would have the effect of criminalising the work of CSOs in the country by proposing harsh penalties, including jail time of up to one year for NGO registration framework-related perceived offences.

It would also give the Public Service minister power to interfere with operations of CSOs, demand their sources of foreign funding, and the right to oversee choices of trustees to run the affairs of PVOs.

“This is quite significant considering the huge employment related challenges the country has been facing for a long time. NGOs have also played an important role in developing the country’s human resource base through carrying out a number of capacity-building activities and programmes,” the NGO Forum added.

“Disruptions of activities of NGOs could threaten these jobs as well as thousands of livelihoods. NGOs also contribute significantly towards foreign currency receipts in the country. According to the 2022 Monetary Policy Statement, NGOs are the third biggest earners of foreign currency after export proceeds and diaspora remittances. Total foreign currency receipts from NGOs rose by 50,5% from US$647,8 million in 2020 to US$975,16 million in 2021.”

The human rights activists said the country was also heavily reliant on the NGO sector for financial support to the health, education, social protection, and water and sanitation sectors, as well as food aid.

“Owing to the huge financing gap in productivity-enhancing and poverty-reducing sectors of the economy, strong partnerships with NGOs and other not-for-profit organisations such as trade unions will strengthen the implementation of the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) as well as the attainment of the country’s vision 2030.”

A survey carried out by NGOs revealed that their contribution to tax revenues ranged from US$4 000 to US$35 000 per month depending on the size of the NGO.

Parliament is currently gathering public views on the Bill and members of the public throughout the country have been rejecting the proposed law.

Yesterday, Bulawayo residents warned that if operations of NGOs are disrupted, citizens in need of food aid and surviving on humanitarian support would starve.

Bulawayo resident Helen Ndlovu said at a public hearing in the city: “NGOs have been assisting everyone in need of food aid, but the government has been distributing food favouring members of the ruling party. NGOs must operate freely. Government agricultural inputs are also given to Zanu PF card-carrying members only.”

Yield Trust representative Antony Chiwota said: “If the government assumes control of NGOs, people in the rural areas will starve. The government must let PVOs do their job.  The PVO Amendment Bill also has a clause that prevents NGOs from political lobbying; however, it fails to clarify what political lobbying is. People cannot stay away from political lobbying because politics affects everyone.”

The Bill has already been rebuked by the United Nations, whose special rapporteur on the rights to freedom and peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, recently said it would gravely affect civic
space.

Last month, the European Union renewed sanctions on Zimbabwe citing the PVO Amendment Bill as one of the oppressive pieces of legislation which exposed that the country was not improving its democratic principles.

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