Bill to compel NGOs to use banking channels
Additional amendments to the Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment (PVO) Bill are being tabled, criminalising civil society organisations’ funding of political parties and candidates and providing civil penalties for receiving or moving money outside banking platforms.
This follows a series of meetings between the Government and civil society organisations to find common ground on the Bill.
There will also be an annual all-stakeholder meeting for non-government organisations and the Government to discuss issues of mutual interest.
The amendments are now before Parliament and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Professor Paul Mavima will table them in the National Assembly soon and move them as amendments at the committee stage, which discusses the Bill clause by clause and is the moment new clauses can be added.
Regarding political activism, the Bill in its current form contains a provision that would allow the registration of a PVO to be cancelled if it engages in political activities, but did not detail what that meant nor lay down criminal penalties if there was a breach.
The proposed clause 9B now reads as follows: “Any private voluntary organisation that supports or opposes any political party or candidate in a presidential, parliamentary or local government election, or is a party to any breach of Part III of the Political Parties (Finance) Act as a contributor of funds to a political party or candidate or otherwise, shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of level twelve or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both such fine or such imprisonment.”
The clause makes it clear that this does not apply to a PVO which assists members of disadvantaged groups to become candidates for election to Parliament or any local authority, provided that such assistance is afforded in a strictly non-partisan manner.
The proposed new clause 11 provides additional amendments that allow for civil penalties on movement of money outside banking channels by civil society organisations.
It reads as follows: “A registered private voluntary organisation shall be guilty of a civil default if there is well founded information available to the Registrar indicating that it has not used formal channels (that is to say registered banking institutions or other financial intermediaries regulated in Zimbabwe or in any other state) for the transmission of its funds at every point from source to destination.”
Other amendments include the insertion of a new clause requiring the Registrar of PVOs to convene annual forums bringing together all stakeholders to discuss issues of mutual interest.
There will also be a clause requiring anyone applying for the registration of a PVO to provide the Registrar with particulars of any beneficial ownership and of the persons who control the organisation to ensure transparency.
Clause 8 requires the minister, at least once every five years and with the co-operation of the Reserve Bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit, to assess the vulnerability of PVOs and other similar organisations to being used for terrorist financing and money laundering.
This is now common in many areas of life in many jurisdictions as money movements have to be tightened up.
The Bill allows authorities to enter into agreements with the government of any other country or to render reciprocal assistance in a number of areas such as registration of PVOs, exchange of information on PVOs, among other issues.
In particular, agreements will allow the registrar of PVOs or the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Reserve Bank to seek details of beneficial ownership or other information in respect of any company from the foreign counterpart, and in return provide details of beneficial ownership or other information in respect of any company to the foreign authority.
The initial Bill was published in November last year and it is meant to rationalise operations of NGOs and civil society organisations so that they stick to their core mandate.