THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE, LEGAL AND PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS (HON. ZIYAMBI): Thank you, Mr Speaker Sir. I rise to deliver my Second Reading Speech on the Private Voluntary Organisation Amendment Bill.
Mr Speaker Sir, the Bill before you today is a very necessary measure to improve the administration, accountability and transparency of charities in our country.
The legal word for charity in our country Mr Speaker is Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO). Under our law, every charity that uses money collected from the public or donated from the foreign Government or foreign agency is required to be registered as a PVO in terms of the Private Voluntary Organisation Act which the Bill before you seeks to amend.
Let me say, Mr Speaker, from the outset that our country benefits very much from the work of those PVOs which operate lawfully within our borders.
PVOs provide support for communities in a wide range of areas where the national or local Government for want of resources or expertise has been deficient for any reason.
I am speaking Mr Speaker of support and assistance in the form of programmes, projects, services, goods and money in such sectors as health and education provision, assistance to widows and orphans, the relief of poverty and hunger and the empowerment of women, youth and disabled.
We, as Government are very grateful for the help given by the PVOs. The best PVOs have access to resources, experience and expertise solely needed by the people they benefit.
Mr Speaker Sir, therefore, from the bottom of my heart, I say to them, on behalf of the Government, “Thank you for the good work you are doing and please keep it up!”
Accordingly, Mr Speaker, this Bill does not speak to those law-abiding PVOs I have just mentioned, but to the few who may be tempted to use the guise of charity to carry out undesirable, harmful and even criminal activities.
For instance Mr Speaker, we have received communication from the Financial Action Task Force (which is the world’s policemen against money laundering) that some charitable trusts are being misused as a means of channelling funds to fund terrorism and other criminal activities, or to launder the proceeds of criminal activities by, for instance, buying up properties in Zimbabwe and other countries.
Mr Speaker Sir, we are also as the Government, aware that some so-called charities act in a politically partisan manner by directing money to favoured political parties or candidates at the expense of other political parties or candidates.
Partisan assistance using foreign money or money collected from the public under the guise of charity must never be allowed to influence the outcome of national or local elections.
In many developed countries Mr Speaker, this kind of behaviour is understood to be harmful to the very idea of charity.
In the United States, for example, you cannot register any organisation as a non-profit organisation for tax purposes if that organisation campaigns or canvasses for any political candidate or party.
Mr Speaker Sir, it is in this context that this Bill seeks to clean up the space within which PVOs may operate. For some time now, the Government has noticed that some so-called charities have completely bypassed the Private Voluntary Organisations Act by forming “trusts” sanctioned by the High Court.
This is a device that is specifically permitted by the Act because originally Mr Speaker, the Government did not want to discourage families or individuals from forming a family or private trusts to benefit family members or members of the public using their own wealth.
It is still not our intention Mr Speaker to impose registration on these kinds of private trusts. However, if it appears that any trust is using for “charity purposes” foreign money not generated by their own activities or investments, or using money collected from members of the public at large, then they must be required somehow to register as a PVO under the Private Voluntary Organisations Act.
We want such trusts to be accountable in the eyes of the public for the sources of their funds and the use to which they are put.
Mr Speaker Sir, I realise that the procedures for registration under the Act need to be streamlined and expedited. This is why some of these charities have chosen the route of forming trusts sanctioned by the High Court.
We cannot run the risk of charities of a public character being used as a cover for theft, embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering or partisan political activity.
Mr Speaker Sir, I will not at this stage, undertake a clause-by-clause analysis of this Bill. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill admirably suits that purpose, I encourage Hon. Members to read it carefully.
However, we have taken suggestions from stakeholders on how to improve its provisions.
Just yesterday, the Government through me – I personally undertook consultations with Civil Society organisations (CSOs) to improve this Bill.
The CSOs indicated their willingness to co-operate with us to improve the Bill in certain key respects.
In particular Mr Speaker Sir, they suggested improvements to the composition of the PVO Board to ensure a fair representation of a cross-section of PVOs and CSOs, from a list of nominees, supplied to the Minister by an umbrella organisation of PVOs and CSOs.
Mr Speaker Sir, we are willing to seriously consider their suggestions in that regard. Also, they undertook to explore Committee Stage amendments to the Bill to better refine the Minister’s powers to intervene in the operations of PVOs in a manner more consistent with rights bestowed by our Constitution, especially the freedom of association.
Mr Speaker Sir, more importantly, the CSOs agreed to assist us with the reformation of Clause 6 of the Bill, which seeks to criminalise the politicization of charitable activities.
We do not want our PVOs to operate in a climate of fear in which they feel they may be subjected to criminal prosecution because they might unwittingly involve themselves in partisan political activities.
For example Mr Speaker, we do not wish to punish a PVO for assisting women to become candidates in national and local elections.
However, we do look with extreme disfavour upon PVOs that abuse their resources by acting in a partisan manner, for instance by favouring communities on the basis of their supposed or expected political affiliation.
Mr Speaker Sir, we look forward as the Government, to CSOs helping us to frame an appropriate criminal offence in this regard.
With these words, I urge Hon. Members to support this Bill, which is intended to promote a better, safer and more conducive environment for the operation of PVOs in our country. I move that the Bill be now read a second time Mr Speaker Sir. I thank you.
Mr Speaker Sir, I understand that the report is not ready. I move for the adjournment of the debate so that the Committee can first present their report.
Motion put and agreed to. Debate to resume Wednesday, 13th April 2022.
THE HON. SPEAKER: The responsible Committee, make sure your report is ready.