There have been complaints from some sections of society, including from Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs), political organisations and foreign embassies that the proposed Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill seeks to curtail the work of civil society and charitable organisations in the Zimbabwe.
By Chris Mahove
However, it should be noted that the purpose of this Bill is principally to curb corruption and money laundering , which is rampant among the Western sponsored NGO and civil society sector and general abuse of aid by civil society organisations (CSOs) and the NGOs.
A number of NGOs and CSOs have departed from their core mandates and are now involving themselves in politics and pushing for unorthodox means of changing the government.
In essence, NGOs and CSOs have been used by Western countries as conduits for illegal regime change, especially in the context of colour revolutions that have succeeded in Eastern Europe, and have been attempted elsewhere.
Apart from getting money to finance the opposition directly and indirectly from Western countries and their governments or groups such as the Open Society Foundations run by George Soros, the NGOs have been used as parallel governments in distributing aid when the capacity of Government has been curtailed.
In this arrangements, donors claim that they fund the NGOs on behalf of local people.
If this were true, it is a legitimate concern to scrutinise, regulate and control as well as seek transparency by the NGOs and CSOs as they purport to represent the people.
There have been numerous cases of financial aid abuse globally and locally, that the US or Western countries never raise or are too embarrassed to reveal.
It is for this reason that countries, including the USA, put in place laws to govern these non-government organisations.
The passing of the PVO Bill will allow the government to legally and effectively monitor the activities of these NGOs on the ground.
It is surprising that countries such as the USA, through its Embassy in Harare, can call on the Government of Zimbabwe to withdraw the proposed Bill saying it seeks to bar Non-Governmental Organizations from political lobbying.
The Bill, approved by the Zimbabwe Cabinet in August/September 2021, was promulgated to meet the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations and the need to prohibit NGOs from involvement in politics.
The Bill amends the Private Voluntary Organisations Act [Chapter 17:05] to align it with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations made to Zimbabwe, as a member, in order to develop policies to combat money laundering.
More specifically, the PVO Amendment Bill seeks to comply with FATF recommendations under technical compliance raised under Zimbabwe’s Mutual Evaluation Report which saw Zimbabwe placed under a monitoring programme in October 2018 by the FATF.
This was done so that the country would align its laws on private voluntary organisations to recommendation 8 which provided that private voluntary organisations can be abused by money launderers and terrorist financiers and that as such, there was need to have clear laws that set out a framework to prevent any potential abuse in key sectors.
In 2018, we all saw how many of the so called democracy champions in the country were busy siphoning money from NGO’s for their personal enrichment at the expense of the purported beneficiaries.
The USAid at some point suspended a number of NGOs after its leaders abused donations meant for various programmes. Among these organisations are the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Counselling Services Unit (CSU) and the Election Resource Centre (ERC).
The organisation went on to report the matter to the USAid office of the inspector-general, an arm responsible for investigating fraud and the abuse of funds in its programmes.
Even the US Embassy acting public relations officer at the time acknowledged there had been misuse of US funding by local Zimbabwean partners who diverted the funds from their intended use.
While these NGOs purport to be champions of good governance and democracy, they are at the forefront of vices such as money laundering and fraud, which is why it is necessary for the country to have a law that governs their operations.
Even in the United States, the country has put in place laws that, among other things, seek to prevent charitable fraud.
There are more than 40 states in the USA which have laws regulating charities and require registration before soliciting donations.
There have also been fraud and money laundering cases in NGO’s in the USA, including large organisations. The $1.5 million of employee theft at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $43 million of improper payments to grantees at The Global Fund, and a $26 million endowment write-off at New York University due to a fraudulent investment manager are some of the examples.
Because many of these organisations would not largely divulge information on cases of fraud for fear of losing funding, it therefore, becomes governments’ obligation to ensure that these organisations are run transparently and that the money they receive from donors is not used for sinister purposes such as sponsoring terrorism or fighting legitimately elected governments.
And the PVO Bill does just that.