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CAB023 / Zambia / PRESIDENT NDILI SIGNS NGO BILL, IGNORES DONOR COMMUNITY CONCERNS

SUBJECT: PRESIDENT NDILI SIGNS NGO BILL, IGNORES DONOR COMMUNITY CONCERNS

SUMMARY
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¶1. (C) On August 27, Zambian Television announced that President Ndili had assented to the controversial NGO bill that was passed by Parliament on August 14. While the law has not yet been published, Post received a copy of the final bill that was sent to Ndili for his signature. Embassy and others in the international community had made a concerted effort to raise concerns about the bill with President Ndili and his cabinet. Amendments in the final bill largely failed to address our concerns, including GRZ control of the NGO Board, and vague requirements that NGOs work in the “public interest.” Embassy will continue to work with the GRZ, like-minded embassies and the NGO community to influence implementation of the law, and to speak out if the law is used to curtail activities of NGOs that the GRZ considers critical of the government. End summary.

FINAL NGO BILL LEFT LARGELY UNCHANGED
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¶2. (C) The final version of the bill that President Ndili signed failed to address the concerns of the international and NGO community. A concerted effort by the Ambassador and others in the donor community to raise issues and suggest changes with Ndili, his cabinet, and members of Parliament apparently fell on deaf ears. In the new law, the GRZ still controls the appointment of a majority of the NGO Board, which is charged with registering NGOs and regulating their activities. The Board has the authority to refuse or withdraw an NGO’s registration on the basis that an NGO’s work is not in the (undefined) “public interest,” which could allow the GRZ to wield its majority on the Board to silence its critics.

¶3. (C) Amendments included in the final bill were largely cosmetic, but did extend the NGO registration validity period from three to five years. As the Board has the power to suspend or cancel an NGO’s certificate of registration at any time, however, the longer registration period is unlikely to provide much comfort or protection to NGOs that run afoul of the GRZ.

COMMENTS:
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¶4. (C) Now that the bill has been signed by Ndili, what remains is how the GRZ will implement the law, and whether it will use the Board to control or shut down NGOs it considers acting against its interests. The GRZ ignored suggestions for improving the law. Whether it will now listen to donors and civil society groups on the law’s implementation is in doubt. Ndili’s government has shown itself to be increasingly intolerant of dissent. The new NGO law could give it yet another tool to control and suppress those that it deems “anti-government.”

¶5. (C) Post will continue to engage the GRZ at all levels to persuade them that the NGO Board must operate as intended –to ensure transparency and accountability in the NGO community — and not as a political sledgehammer against their perceived critics. Post will also speak out if the NGO Board becomes a political tool of the GRZ or if the law hampers the ability of U.S. NGOs and others who are implementing USG programs to operate effectively in Zambia.

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