The proposed amendment to the NGO Act has disregarded the cries of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that there is interference in the running of the regulator, NGO Board.
Under the law, the minister will be mandated to appoint a chairperson of the NGO Board without consultation from the NGOs.
While changing the status of the NGO Board to an Authority, the Non-Governmental Organisations (Amendment) Act of 2017, which The Nation has seen, indicates the number of members to the authority will be reduced from 10 to nine while ex-officio members have been increased by one with the inclusion of the Principal Secretary (PS) responsible for Local Government and Rural Development.
This is in addition to the PS responsible for Social Welfare, the PS for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and the PS for Treasury as ex-officio members.
Section 7 of the amended Act reads: “The Authority shall consist of nine members who shall be citizens of Malawi and appointed as follows [a] a chairperson appointed by the minister; [b] five other members appointed by the minister in consultation with relevant professional and other bodies.”
Reacting to the provision, executive director of Centre for the Development of People (Cedep) Gift Trapence faulted the amendments, arguing that they are giving too much power to the minister.
He said: “They have given too much power to the minister by appointing board members. This arrangement can easily be abused, manipulated and politicised to gag governance NGOs and close the civil society space. The best model is to adopt the Malawi Human Rights Commission model of appointing commissioners.”
The Act currently states that the members are appointed by the minister in consultation with the Council for Non-Governmental Organisations in Malawi (Congoma) whose role has been scrapped and repealed in the NGO Amendment Bill because it is a voluntary membership body.
The Minister of Gender and Community Welfare is at liberty to discard the names and choose his own which NGOs have argued infringes on the independence of the board.
But to lessen the outcry that could result from such an arrangement, the amendment bill indicates that members confirmed by the Public Appointments Committee of the National Assembly.
A repealed Section 6 (2) has also emphasised that members of the authority would be independent of interference from any public office, any organ of the Government and any political party, in a move to further appease the NGO community distrustful of the government involvement in the NGO Board.
While the current Act puts the number of female members of the board at three out of 10, the amendment has acknowledged the 50-50 provision in the Gender Equality Act by stating that half of the members shall be women.
The bill has also maintained the demand of audited financial statements and disclosure of source of funding
Some NGOs have argued that the provisions are meant to stifle the operations of those critical to government. n