By NKOSINGIPHILE MYENI | 2023-06-11
Non-governmental organisations have rejected the draft NGO Bill and have called on the ministry of home affairs to return to the drawing board.
The organisations said current draft Bill does not reflect the aspirations of the NGO sector and it was drafted entirely without their input and that it posed a risk that could threaten the autonomy and self-regulation of the NGO sector in the country.
They also stated that there were several contentious clauses that provide for over regulation of the NGO sector and disempowered existing structures in the sector.
The clauses, according to the organisations were contradictory to Section 61 of the Constitution.
“The Bill in its current form threatens the autonomy of the NGOs and is contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution,” they stated.
The NGOs said consultations should have begun at drafting.
Following consultations with the ministry and organisations, 31 directors of different NGOs registered with the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organisations (CANGO), took a resolution to retain the status quo, advising government to go back to the drawing board.
The ministry of home affairs met with the NGOs where it shared the draft NGO Bill of 2023, which if it comes on effect would see government establish a Council of NGOs, which would consist of 12 members who are representatives of NGOs.
The council shall assist NGOs to strengthen their operations, develop, adopt and administer a code of conduct for NGOs, facilitate and coordinate the work of non-governmental organisations, and perform any other functions relevant for purposes of this Bill as the apex body may determine.
If passed into law, CANGO could be phased out.
The NGOs have raised at least five grounds on which they are opposed to the proposition of the Bill.
“The consultations on the Bill should begin at drafting.
The current draft Bill does not reflect the aspirations of the NGO sector and it was drafted entirely without their input,” the directors’ first resolution said.
They said that CANGO would take time to consider engaging legal experts to assist them in understanding and unpacking the Bill before it is presented to the NGOs and ultimately to the ministry of home affairs.
The resolutions culminate from an extraordinary meeting, which was held by CANGO members on June 7. The meeting took place at the Mountain View Hotel.
The NGOs raised a third point that CANGO was tasked with re-engaging the ministry and the consultant engaged to undertake the drafting of the Bill ‘on a clear and contextual definition of an NGO.’
Fourthly, the directors resolved to task CANGO again with reaching out to fellow apex bodies in the region in order to get their understanding on how NGOs are regulated in other countries.
“Lastly, CANGO was tasked with engaging the ministry on the Bill to request clarity on the issue of tax with the tax master, the Eswatini Revenue Service (ERS),” according to the report prepared by the CANGO secretariat. The secretariat stated that this was in respect of the classification of NGO in the context of the new Bill, which they say would be totally different from the current situation.
They are adamant that in terms of the Companies Act, NGOs are classified as not for profit and the definition under the proposed law is unclear.
As a result of the meeting, the report states that CANGO would engage the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chair to lobby him and garner for support for the revision of the Bill.
“The meeting recommended that the Bill be dismissed and reverted back for consultations as there are glaring inconsistencies with the Constitution of Swaziland,” the report reads.
The Bill proposes a new structure to regulate and coordinate NGOs.
The document states that an apex organisation would emulate the work of CANGO but would have NGOs regulated under government.
Working hand in hand with the apex organisation would be the council of NGOs.
Section 35 (1) states, “There shall be established an apex organisation of non-governmental organisations operating in Eswatini to be known as the Coordinating Assembly of Non Governmental Organisations, which shall be a collective forum of non-governmental organisations for the purposes of co-ordination and networking of all non-governmental organisations registered under this Act.”
A dictionary definition of an apex organisation is an independent organisation that has a membership of an absolute majority of all primary members.
The Bill proposes to facilitate a self-regulation mechanism under the new structure.
The proposed legislation would establish the board of NGOs to administer the registration of NGOs.
The NGO board’s function is the regulation authority reporting to the minister of home affairs, who shall appoint the board.
“Under the board will be the registrar. Below the registrar would be the apex organisation or umbrella body.”
The apex organisation, according to the draft Bill shall adopt its own structure, rules and procedures for the efficient administration of its activities.
“No person, body of persons or a non-governmental organisation shall, after the establishment of the apex organisation, perform or claim to perform anything which the apex organisation is empowered or required to do under this Act,” Section 35(4) states.
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