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PVO BILL: Is the Government Clawing its Talons into the Creative Sector?

Private Voluntary Organisations bill is a strategy to infiltrate independent organisations with the aim of diluting their purpose.

BY THABANI H. MOYO | @thabaih | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | FEB 7, 2022

The gazetted Private Voluntary Organisation bill 2021 approved by the Zimbabwean cabinet has generated a lot of debate — with some pointing it as having unfair and detrimental effects on the creative arts sector while others support it as the government's efforts in infrastructure and human development.

BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — Private Voluntary Organisations (PVOs) are groups of persons or institutions that are private, non-profit driven and independent. These play a pivotal role in supporting government efforts in infrastructure and human development. They assist in areas such as education, health, and charity work, legal and emergency aid in times of disasters.

The arts sector has entities that are registered as Trusts, Associations and groups that fall under the PVO Bill. To ignore the contents, and impact of the Bill on the PVOs will be detrimental. Most organisations that are in the arts sector are affected by this Bill.

The Bill affects PVOs, Trusts, Associations and all organisations providing charitable services, and everyone who benefits and supports their work.

What are some of the challenges that are being introduced by this bill?
Trusts and common law universitas associations will be ordered to register under the PVO Act. Designated organisations will become unlawful entities unless they register under the Act. The Act seeks to regulate the operations of PVOs. Registration under the PVO Act is a very difficult process.

The bill was gazetted on 5 November 2021. It seeks to comply with the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It aims at preventing PVOs from participating in governance activities.

FATF is an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1989 to develop policies that combat money laundering and terrorist financing across the globe. PVOs across the world have come under the spotlight as conduits of money laundering, and as involved in financing terrorist activities.

The bill brands all PVOs including those in the arts and culture sector as potential money laundering agencies and terrorist financing organisations. This idea is farfetched and unfair to the struggling arts organisations. The bill makes it a punishable crime for a designated organisation to receive funds and contributions without registration.

Organisations will not be allowed to receive funds and contributions from well-wishers, including those who are outside the country. The suggested amendments restrict the work of all PVOs not just those that are at risk of money laundering and financing terrorist activities. They infringe on human rights as they affect PVOs that are working with communities.

It is a known fact that artists have always been at the forefront of voicing any societal wrongs and once this becomes law, it will affect them more than any other sector.

It bans PVOs from working on programmes involving governance and political activities. This infringes on the constitutional rights of Zimbabweans to participate in governance issues. Issues of good governance and accountability must be spearheaded by anyone without fear of incarceration. Politics touches all spheres of life, and any attempt to gag individuals and organisations from speaking and discussing governance and political issues has to be challenged.

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The Bill allows for the suspension and removal of executive committees of PVOs. The Minister of Public Service and Social welfare is given optimum powers to remove those in charge of running these organisations and replace them with whoever he/she chooses. This affects the democratic rights of PVOs as to who they chose to lead them. This is a strategy to infiltrate independent organisations with the aim of diluting their purpose. The minister has power to label any PVO as high risk. Funding sources and how the money is to be used must be presented to the minister as when he/she demands.

Implications of the Bill becoming law
·        PVOs will not be able to freely carry out their work as they will be under the ‘hawk’s’ eye. Vocal artists are likely to suffer loss in terms of business as some organisations will feel insecure to work with them.

·        There is likely to be job losses as some PVOs might fold because of stringent registration requirements. Some of these PVOs have projects that outsource artists as influencers. This will have a direct bearing on the arts and creative sector incomes.

·        Poor communities are likely to become poorer as PVOs that were operating in them fold.

The bill seeks to control each and every PVO institution operating in Zimbabwe. Artists must mobilise and make their voices to be heard as a sector. Artists have platforms where they can make noise about the bill. They must take a leading role and participate in public hearings to voice their concerns against this Bill.