Representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) on Monday met Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda to lobby for a review of the NGO Act (Amendment) Bill they insist stifles their operations.
The Bill, which Parliament passed last month, defines roles of the NGO Board and Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi besides demanding accountability for funds.
Leader of the CSOs delegation Benedicto Kondowe said while some issues raised may require amendment to the law, it was also agreed during the meeting that other issues would need to be addressed in the pending regulations.
He said in an interview: “We agreed that the Attorney General will consult internally and provide feedback in writing by Wednesday, 4th May 2022 on issues that will require review and those that will be resolved through the development of the regulations.
“We also appealed for the withholding of the assenting of the NGO Amendment Bill by the President until regulations are developed. This will ensure that issues for amendment as well as those to be provided in the regulations are addressed before assenting to the NGO Amendment Bill.”
Kondowe said the meeting also resolved that subject to government commitment, the injunction obtained by Youth and Society (YAS), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Centre for Development of People on the law may be discharged.
In a separate interview, Nyirenda confirmed meeting the CSOs and described the engagement as fruitful.
He said: “All I can say is that we had a fruitful meeting with the CSOs. We are not here to stifle their space because they help a lot in the development of the country. We will continue engaging on the matter.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network has written President Lazarus Chakwera, asking him not to assent to the Bill.
Earlier, YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka said the Bill does not pass the constitutional test and violates fundamental rights and freedoms, particularly freedom of association, freedom of assembly and other related rights.
He said: “We have a government that is a product of an independent Judiciary and a vibrant civil society, but today the Tonse Alliance are attacking the Judiciary by undermining decisions of the court.
“The government is undermining and attacking the CSOs that gave them a springboard into power. If it was not for active civil society, these people could not have been in power today.” While commending the Bill for eliminating mandatory membership to the Congoma, which is currently required for NGOs’ registration, the CSOs are seeking clarity argue that the Bill contains problematic provisions that could limit NGOs’ ability to operate and fully exercise their fundamental freedoms, such as powers to suspend or cancel NGO registration.