By Wallace Mawire

Veritas Zimbabwe,an organization which works to provide information on the work of the Parliament of Zimbabwe and the laws of the country has said that the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill being proposed in the country is not only unconstitutional but also violates regional and international conventions, treaties and agreements which Zimbabwe, as a party, has pledged to uphold.
The organization said that human rights are interrelated and interdependent and therefore the protection of one right depends on the effective protection and promotion of other rights. 

‘So by limiting freedom of association, the Bill will also limit freedom of expression stipulated in section 61(1)(a) of the Constitution, which states that every person has the right to freedom of expression,which includes the freedom to seek,receive and communicate ideas and other information,’Veritas Zimbabwe said.

The organization added that PVOs carry out their mandates through seeking receiving and communicating ideas and information in order to achieve their desired objectives. 
They add that without freedom of expression they cannot operate or even exist. 
It added that to that extent the Bill infringes their freedom of association, and also infringes their right to freedom of expression.

According to Veritas Zimbabwe, freedom of expression is also protected by the following international instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party,   Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,  Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Veritas added that    Under section 18 of the Act, the Registrar can determine that branches of PVOs are independent PVOs if he or she thinks they are not under the control of their parent PVO. Such a determination has the effect of rendering the branch illegal (because it is not registered) and it can be made without consulting the parent PVO or the branch concerned, and without affording them an opportunity to make representations.

    Under section 21 of the Act, as amended by clause 7 of the Bill, the committee [often called a Board] of a registered PVO can be suspended by the Minister and, if the suspension lasts for more than 30 days, banned from being re-elected, without being given a chance to contest their suspension.  Pending a court decision on the validity of the suspension, the Minister will be empowered to appoint a trustee to run the affairs of the PVO.

 Under clause 2 of the Bill the Minister will be able to extend the application of the Act to cover institutions, bodies, associations and other persons that the Minister declares in regulations to be vulnerable to misuse by terrorist organisations, or at high risk of being misused by terrorist organisations.  The persons covered by a Ministerial declaration will have to register as PVOs under the Act and will be subject not only to the obligations laid down in the Act but also to any additional requirements the Minister may specify in regulations.  The Minister will not be obliged to give notice to the persons before making such a declaration, nor will he or she have to invite them to make representations.

    Under a new section 22 which clause 8 of the Bill will insert into the Act, the Minister will be required to assess the vulnerability of PVOs and similar organisations to being used for money laundering and terrorist financing.  The assessment will be done without any involvement of PVOs, and there will be no appeal against the Minister’s decision.  In this respect the new section is contrary to recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

  Appeals against the Registrar’s refusal to register PVOs or a decision to cancel the registration of a PVO will be made to the Minister under a new section 14 to be inserted into the Act by clause 6A of the Bill.  The Minister’s powers under the new section will be very limited.  Unlike the existing section, which allows the Minister to confirm the decision appealed against or to give such other decision as he or she considers should have been given, the new provision will restrict the Minister to exercising review powers:  he or she will be allowed to set aside a decision only on procedural grounds, for example if the Registrar has shown bias or malice, or has failed to take relevant factors into account, or if the decision was grossly unreasonable.