(Sept. 2, 2009) It was reported on August 26, 2009, that Zambia's Parliament passed into law the 2009 NGO Bill, to regulate the activities of non-governmental organizations that operate in Zambia. The law has been sent to the President for his assent. (NGOs Fear Law Will Hobble Their Activities, IRIN, Aug. 26, 2009, available at http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=85860.)
The law mandates the Community Development Minister to establish a board, at least half of whose members will be government officials, that will “receive, discuss and approve the code of conduct [of NGOs], and …provide policy guidelines to NGOs and for harmonizing their activities to the national development plan of Zambia.” The law requires that NGOs re-register every five years and report their activities, financiers, and accounts, as well as the private wealth of their officials, annually. If they fail to do so, the law prescribes penalties that range from suspension to revocation of their registration. (Id.)
Finn Petersen, the country director of MS-Zambia, the Danish Association for International Cooperation in Zambia, which is active in addressing issues of democracy and land rights, summarized the concerns of civil society and human rights activists about the law as follows:
Ultimately, we fear that the effect of the law will be to render it very difficult for NGOs, who provide critical analysis and checks and balances on the sitting government, to function properly … .
It could also lead to a dwindling number of civil society organisations, in particular small locally-based ones, as they will struggle to meet the criteria of the bill. This will eventually be detrimental to allowing the voice and free expressions of the population living in rural and remote areas to be heard. (Id.)
Under the current system, NGOs are registered by a semi-governmental body, and the government has little power to interfere in their activities, as any government action to suspend or cancel an NGO's registration is subject to review by a court. (Id.)
A similar law on NGOs was recently passed by the Ethiopian Parliament. (See Hanibal Goitom, New Law on Nongovernmental Organizations Passed, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR, Jan. 13, 2009, available at http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_935_text.)