The head of the visiting European Union Election Observer Mission, Elmar Brok told journalists on Friday that the bloc is concerned by the Private Voluntary Organizations PVO Amendment Bill which has the potential to restrict legitimate activities of civil societies thereby crippling fundamental freedoms of expression.
The PVO Amendment Bill was brought up in 2021 by the government which claimed that it would align the existing PVO Act with the Financial Action Task Force recommendations against money-laundering and financing of terrorism.
However, the bill was received with much condemnation as most non-governmental organisations allege that the government is in the process of limiting their freedom especially, ahead of the 2023 elections.
Brok said the bill will silence critics and infringe on the right to freedom of expression if enacted. He called on the government to reconsider its position before moving forward.
“We’re concerned that if the Private Voluntary Organizations PVO Amendment Bill is adopted, it will severely impact the freedom of association and restrict legitimate activities of civil society organizations.
“Therefore, we urge authorities and the legislature to reconsider, keeping in mind Zimbabwe’s international commitment. We heard also concerns from part of the opposition and civil society that amendments to the Criminal Law might be introduced which would endanger the freedom of expression,” Broke said.
The government has for long accused NGOs of fronting regime change agenda through funding from Western powers.
Government spokesperson, Nick Mangwana Thursday revealed that top officials in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration met with some diplomats and they clashed over the bill.
“A few days ago some diplomats met government officials over the PVOs Amendment Bill. They expressed a lot of bitterness and odium towards the Bill. Very interesting. How does this Bill undermine their interests? Don’t we have the right to advance our own interests like everyone else?” Mangwana said.
Speaking to Newday, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said diplomatic engagement over issues of development and governance was imperative for sharing perspectives, ideas and good practices.
“Diplomatic missions in Zimbabwe through their development agencies provide the bulk of social protection support to Zimbabwe, including supporting development initiatives by both State and non-State actors,” Kika said.
“This is going to be disrupted in many ways if that law is passed, thus this engagement is in fact inevitable. As to whether the government will listen, time will tell through the government’s action, but the government will be well advised to drop what will close civic space and disrupt the little social protection there is in Zimbabwe mainly through NGOs and development partners,” he said.