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Dear Colleagues and trusted friends of CIVICUS,
Warm greetings from Johannesburg!
As you may be aware, Zambian NGOs are currently facing an extremely difficult situation. They are being forced to re-register under the restrictive 2009 NGO Act which greatly curbs the independence of the civil society sector and creates bureaucratic hurdles that can be easily invoked to intimidate NGOs critical of official policies. Zambian NGOs need solidarity from civil society around the world to counter this bad precedent that is being set.
Below is a letter endorsed by over 400 Zambian civil society groups calling on President Sata to abandon plans to operationalize the restrictive 2009 NGO Act which we are asking you to support. The Zambian NGOs listed in the letter have courageously refused to register under this unjust law and are urging the government to engage in dialogue and debate to put in place a new law that protects freedom of association.
Zambian civil society urgently needs your help to oppose this unjust law. To pledge your support, please email the name and location of your organisation by Tuesday, October 31st to email@example.com
Thank you for your support!
His Excellence Michael Chilufya Sata
President of the Republic of Zambia
Independence Avenue, Woodlands
Dear President Sata,
Re: Concerns regarding the operationalization of the 2009 NGO Act
We, the undersigned organisations representing diverse civil society groups from around the world would like draw attention to your Patriotic Front Government’s positive commitment in its 2011 party manifesto to “promote constant dialogue between the state and the civil society” and “guarantee the active participation of civil society in matters of social justice and good governance.”
Thus, we are deeply concerned by your government’s decision to operationalize the controversial 2009 Non-Governmental Organisations Act which was introduced by former President Rupiah Banda’s government. We believe that implementation of the NGO Act will be a severe setback to the independence of civil society in Zambia while being regressive for the country’s democratic trajectory.
We stand in solidarity with Zambian NGOs who have taken a principled decision not to re-register under the Act by 11 November 2013 as per your government’s directive. We believe that the 2009 NGO Act is severely flawed and breaches a number of international standards on freedom of association. We urge your government to engage in meaningful dialogue with Zambian civil society on the problematic aspects of the current law which we outline below.
Arbitrary registration procedures
The Act provides for mandatory registration of all NGOs within 30 days of their formation or adoption of their constitution. Failure to do so can invite a fine and imprisonment up to three years. We believe the decision to register should be the prerogative of an individual NGO. Organisations that choose not to register because of a lack of capacity to fulfil various requirements under the Act or otherwise should not be deemed illegal. Furthermore, the Act provides for denial of registration in the “public interest,” which is not defined leaving scope for the exercise of excessive executive discretion. Worryingly, the Act also ignores the principle of perpetual succession for legal entities by requiring NGOs to re-register every five years.
Excessive government control on the NGO sector
The Act vests the government dominated NGO Registration Board with broad powers that can seriously impact the independence of the NGO sector. Three functions of the NGO Board are particularly problematic: (i) the power to approve the area of work of NGOs, which allows the government to determine their thematic and geographic areas of functioning and exercise control over their affairs, (ii) the power to provide policy guidelines to harmonise the activities of NGOs with the national development plan, which co-opts NGOs into assisting in the fulfilment of the political priorities of the government of the day reflected in the plan, and (iii) the power to advise on strategies for efficient planning and coordination of activities of NGOs, which treats NGOs as government subsidiaries as opposed to independent entities free to formulate and execute their action plans in line with identified priorities.
Curbs on independence of the NGO sector through forced self-regulation and peer monitoring
In contrast to established norms where umbrella bodies of NGOs adopt codes of conduct and invite their members to voluntarily adopt them, the Act uses the law to force NGOs to submit to a code of conduct to be monitored by a 12 member NGO Council. Although members of the Council are to be elected by NGOs themselves, the over-reaching mandate of the Council could have serious repercussions on the autonomy and independence of individual NGOs that may not subscribe to majoritarian positions adopted by the Council, which is legally obligated to influence the activities of their peers by playing a monitoring and coordinating role over the NGO sector.
In light of the above concerns we urge you to engage with NGOs and civil society groups in drawing up a new NGO law that conforms with international standards and is a fitting tribute to Zambia’s commitment to democratic values. As a prelude to this process, we call upon you to suspend the order requiring all NGOs to register by 11 November 2013.
We would be pleased to discuss these matters with you further.
Zambian Civil Society
1. ZAMBIA COUCIL FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT (ZCSD) ON BEHALF OF 167 MEMBERS NGOs
2. NONGOVERNMENTAL COORDINATING COMMITTEE (NGOCC) ON BEHALF OF 100 MEMBER NGOs
3. CIVIL SOCIETY FOR POVERTY REDUCTION (CSPR) ON BEHALF OF 70 MEMBERS NGOs
4. ZAMBIA NATIONAL EDUCATION COALIATION (ZANEC) ON BEHALF OF 65 MEMBERS NGOs
5. ACTIONAID ZAMBIA
6. YOUNG AFRICAN LEADERS INITIATIVE (YALI)
7. TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL ZAMBIA (TIZ)
8. PANOS SOUTHERN AFRICA
9. WOMEN IN LAW IN SOUTHERN AFRICA (WILSA)
10. WOMEN IN LAW AND DEVELOPMENT IN AFRICA (WILDAF)
11. FOUNDATION FOR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS (FODEP)
12. ZAMBIA CIVIC EDUCATION ASSOCIATION (ZCEA)
13. YOUNG WOMEN CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (YWCA)
14. YOUNG MEN CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION (YMCA)
15. OPERATION YOUNG VOTE (OYV)
16. CARITAS ZAMBIA
17. ANTI VOTER APATHY PROJECT
18. ZAMBIA CLIMATE CHANGE NETWORK (ZCCN)
19. ZAMBIA ALLIANCE OF WOMEN
20. JESUILT CENTRE FOR THEOLOGICAL REFLECTION (JCTR)
21. MEDIA INSTITUTE OF SOUTHERN AFRICA (MISA)
22. CHIPANGALI WOMEN DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION
23. SOUTHERN AFRICAN CENTRE FOR CONSTRUCTION OF RESOLUTION OF DISPUTES (SACCORD)
24. CENTRE FOR TRADE POLICY AND DEVELOPMENT (CTPD)
25. CONSUMER UNITY TRUST INTERNATIONAL
26. ZAMBIA SOCIAL FORUM
27. FORUM FOR YOUTH ORGANISATIONS (FYOZ)
28. WOMEN’S LOBBY
29. ZAMBIA LAND ALLIANCE
30. ZAMBIA ASSOCIATION FOR RESEARCH DEVELOPMENT (ZARD)
31. SENIOR CITIZENS ASSOCIATION OF ZAMBIA
32. ZAMBIA PRISON AID
33. MANA WINDOWS
34. FARMERS ORGANISATION SUPPORT PROGRAMME (FOSUP