ZIMBABWE’S struggling economy stands to lose about US$1 billion annually after the National Assembly passed the controversial Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) Bill last week, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has said.
The controversial Bill will likely see some civil society organisations (CSOs) stopping their operations in Zimbabwe, while others may be forced to close shop, critics say.
When the Bill was introduced in November last year, it sparked fury from the public, civic society and the opposition who said it would shrink democratic space by giving broad powers to government to control operations of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
In an interview, NGO Forum executive director Musa Kika said development aid was 10 times the Foreign Direct Investment.
The Forum is a consortium of 22 human rights organisations in the country.
“This decision by some individuals who want to protect their political power is disastrous to our economy. The Zimbabwean economy is underperforming and looking at the policy statement issued by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube this year gives a breakdown of where foreign currency is coming from,” Kika said.
“He stated that development aid in the form of grants was bringing in a staggering figure of about US$975 million, which is almost a billion.”
Ncube also estimated that grants would fall from US$776 million this year to US$352,8 million next year, a difference of US$423,2 million.
Critics say if signed into law, the Bill would provide government with unfettered discretionary power to interfere in the operations of NGOs.
With its provisions, government could designate any PVO as “high risk” or “vulnerable” to terrorism abuse, allowing the minister to revoke its registration and remove or replace its leadership.
PVOs may also be required to get approval from the minister for any “material change”, including changes to its management and internal constitution.
Government has argued that the law is necessary to comply with global counterterrorism and anti-money laundering regulations, but critics say the country already has laws to deal with such concerns.
It has also accused CSOs of pursuing a regime change agenda.
Economic analyst Gift Mugano said given that Zimbabwe was still under sanctions, the Bill would have a significant impact on the social and economic growth of the nation.
“If the development partners channelling funds into this economy withdraw or reduce financial aid, our country is going to suffer more,” Mugano said.
“Zimbabwe is under sanctions and development partners do not channel funds through the government as they do in other countries like South Africa. The country will lose billions of US dollars, also worsening the unemployment rate.”
CSOs and opposition political parties have urged government to withdraw the Bill, which aims to monitor and regulate NGO activities.
Critics feel that the PVOs Amendment Bill may have been inspired by government’s historical perception of NGOs as pro-opposition and anti-establishment, particularly those in the human rights and democracy cluster.
Centre for Natural Resource Governance director Farai Maguwu told NewsDay in an interview that the decision by Parliament was against economic development, contradicting President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vision 2030.
“Our country is in a deep economic crisis mainly because the government fails to deliver life-giving services to the people. Our roads represent a country that has been at war for the past 40 years or more,” he said.
“Our service delivery died, hence we have people travelling as far as Karanda Hospital in Mashonaland Central (province) seeking medical attention, a hospital supported by development aid.
“The government should be appreciating the role development practitioners are playing to safeguard the lives of Zimbabweans. We have development partners feeding the people which the government must feed.”