House passes criticised NGOs law amendment

Dodoma. Parliament yesterday passed the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) No. 3 Bill of 2019 to redefine – among others issues – how non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should operate after a heated debate that divided lawmakers along political affiliations.

Although the amendments affect eight laws: the Companies Act, Cap. 212, the Copyright and Neighbouring Rights Act, Cap. 218, the Films and Stage Plays Act, Cap. 230, the Non-Governmental Organisations, Act Cap. 56, the Societies Act, Cap. 337, the Statistics Act Cap.351, the Tanzanian Shipping Agencies, Act Cap.415 and the Trustees’ Incorporation Act Cap.318, debate was largely tilted towards four legislative pieces.

These included that of Non-Governmental Organisations, Act Cap. 56, the Companies Act, Cap. 212, the Statistics Act Cap.351 and the Films and Stage Plays Act, Cap. 230.

Moving the amendments in Parliament, Attorney General Adelardus Kilangi said the changes to the Companies Act were meant to create a clear boundary between responsibilities of the Business Registration and Licensing Agency (Brela) and the Registrar of NGOs.

Prior to the changes, said Prof Kilangi, NGOs were registered by either Brela or the Registrar of NGOs.

This, he said, created challenges in the registration, supervision and monitoring of NGO activities.

“The NGOs Cap 56 seeks to ensure that we register only those organisations that are meant to help communities instead of registering those that will end up benefitting their own members,” he said.

But some MPs were quick to oppose the move: “The aim is only to cut off certain individuals from the operations of NGOs,” argued opposition spokesperson Salome Mbatia.

She blamed the government for bringing the amendments under the certificate of urgency, calling it a ‘systematic approach to silence’ certain individuals.

But Parliamentary Committee for Constitution and Legal Affairs supported the amendments.

“The committee assures Tanzanians that the amendments don’t intend to de-register companies, NGOs, community based organisations or religious organisations. They seek to improve the way these bodies operate,” said the deputy chairperson of the committee, Ms Najma Giga (Special Seats, CCM).

She said while working on the amendments, the Committee sought assistance from similar laws in other countries, specifically from Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda and Sierra Leone.

“We realised that while in Tanzania NGOs are not subjected to renewal of their registration, in Rwanda, Zambia and Uganda, they are required to renew their certificates after every five years. In Sierra Leone they do so after every two years. This is why we are proposing that in Tanzania, they should renew after ten years,” she said.

Ms Giga said the amendments were only meant to create a clear boundary between a company and an NGO while simultaneously giving a chance for the government to ensure that they (the NGOs) were undertaking their operations in line with the objectives for which they were registered.

Some of the legislators who supported the committee’s views included: Mr Emmanuel Mwakasaka (Tabora Urban-CCM), Mr Christopher Chiza (Buyungu-CCM), Ms Susan Kolimba (Special Seats-CCM) and Mr Joseph Mhagama (Madaba-CCM).

“NGOs must be regulated. We cannot have a myriad of NGOs without regulating them. There are some NGOs that go our villages with the good news that they support communities but when you make a follow-up you realise that the money was mostly spent by those who brought the NGO,” said Mr Chiza.

NGO stakeholders argued that the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019) would restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, including placing impermissible restrictions on civil society organizations and entrenching censorship.