Leaders of non-governmental organisations that fund political parties or candidates will face up to a year in prison if the Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill gazetted last Friday is passed into law.
The amendment seeks to add to section 10 of the principal Act by the insertion of a new paragraph that bars any private voluntary organisation from supporting or opposing any political party or candidate in a presidential, parliamentary or local government election.
Any private voluntary organisation violating this provision 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 penalty also extends to foreign organisations that solicit funds for political parties in breach of the Political Parties Finance Act.
One major need for the amendment is to fulfil Zimbabwe’s obligations under international law to prevent terrorist organisations misusing non-profit organisations to launder money or move money around.
The other need arises from the fact that some NGOs abandon their mandates by pursuing a political agenda in support of regime change. Some of the NGOs have endorsed opposition parties and go on to distribute food that has political signs of the political parties they would have chosen to side with.
Other NGOs have seconded candidates for council, parliamentary and presidential elections, in exchange for funding.
Apart from barring NGOs from pursuing political lobbying, the Bill’s Memorandum says the amendments are also being made in order to comply with the Financial Action Taskforce recommendations made to Zimbabwe.
It has also become necessary to streamline administrative procedures for private voluntary organisations to allow for efficient regulation and registration.
The Taskforce is an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1989 on the initiative of the Group of 7 (G7) countries whose main objective is to develop policies to combat money laundering. Zimbabwe is a member.
Each member country is assessed periodically for compliance with the policies and legislation on money laundering and financing of terrorism.
Countries are assessed on two major criteria, which are technical compliance and effectiveness.
Technical compliance is concerned with deficiencies related to the country’s anti-money laundering and financing of terrorism legislation while effectiveness is concerned with deficiencies which highlight practical implementation challenges.
“This Bill seeks to comply with recommendations under technical compliance raised under Zimbabwe’s mutual evaluation report,” reads part of the Memorandum.
“As a result of the said deficiencies, Zimbabwe was placed under a monitoring programme in October 2018 by FATF in order to ensure the country aligns its laws on private voluntary organisation to recommendation 8 whose objective is to ensure that non-profit organisations are not misused by terrorist organisations whether as a way for such terrorist organisations to pose as legitimate entities; or to exploit legitimate entities as conduits for terrorist financing, including for the purpose of escaping asset freezing measures; or to conceal or obscure the clandestine diversion of funds intended for legitimate purposes, but diverted for terrorist purposes, as such, there is need to have clear laws that set out a framework that allows to prevent any potential abuse in key sectors.”