Youth and Society (YAS) and Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) have rebuffed a meeting which the Council for Non-Governmental Organisation (Congoma) summoned over the NGO Amendment Act.
The two NGOs argue that Congoma has collapsed its own moral standing to convene any meaningful engagement with them regarding the Act because it sided with the government before the Bill was assented to by President Lazarus Chakwera last month.
The meeting, which was expected to take place on Thursday has now been shifted to Tuesday next week, according to Congoma chairperson Kossam Munthali, but he is yet to confirm if other NGOs have confirmed participation.
In a letter we have seen addressed to Congoma, signed by YAS executive director Charles Kajoloweka and his CHRR counterpart Michael Kaiyatsa, dated June 6, the two NGOs argue that the invitation was limited to only 25 NGOs, excluding a majority of the concerned NGOs and crucial networks and coalitions.
They said such exclusion raises questions about the criteria Congoma used in inviting the NGOs, further questioning why there were no prior consultations with concerned NGOs in developing the agenda for the meeting.
Reads the letter in part: “While we remain open to constructive dialogue on the issues regarding the NGO Act, we believe that such a process must be genuine and led by competent and trusted individuals.”
On April 25 2022, some NGOs met Attorney General Thabo Chakaka-Nyirenda on the concerns regarding the then NGO Amendment Bill, and urged Chakwera not to assent to it.
During that meeting, which Nyirenda confirmed, they agreed that the AG would consult internally and provide feedback in writing by Wednesday May 4 2022.
“However, we have not heard from the AG as agreed. Considering that Congoma, NGO Board and the government share same position regarding the NGO Act 2022, we are reluctant to engage Congoma on the NGO Act issues before officially hearing from the AG,” adds the letter.
In an interview, Munthali said Congoma has always believed in dialogue.
He said: “We don’t believe in holding press conferences, but meeting to dialogue if there are any problems. These people are coming saying they are moving out of Congoma, talking about lost trust in the leadership, but we have been in the process leading to that Bill together.
“I admit the Amendment Act is not 100 percent perfect, but some issues they are raising like submitting audited accounts, we have been doing that.”
The outspoken Munthali said it was unfortunate that some people have decided to attack the leadership of Congoma, instead of dwelling on substantive issues.
The Bill, which members of Parliament (MPs) passed in March this year, defines roles of the NGO Board and Congoma, besides demanding accountability for funds.
The CSOs had urged Chakwera not to assent to the Bill, arguing that it is aimed at gagging operations of CSOs and undermining human rights and democracy.