New Law to Regulate NGOs in Zambia

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Until recently, non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”) in Zambia were largely unregulated and could operate freely as long as they had some form of registration, normally under the Societies Act. This has however changed with enactment into law of the Non-Governmental Organisation Act, 2009 (the “Act”). The Act was assented to on 26th August 2009 but has not yet come into force.

The purpose of the Act is to co-ordinate and register and to enhance the transparency, accountability and performance of NGOs. “NGO” is defined to mean a private voluntary grouping of individuals or associations, whether corporate or unincorporated, not established or operated for profit, partisan politics or any commercial purposes, and who have organized themselves for the promotion of civic education, advocacy, human rights, social welfare, development, charity, research or other activity for the benefit or interest of the public, through resources mobilised from sources within or outside Zambia.

The Act requires all NGOs as well as international NGOs operating in Zambia to be registered in accordance with the Act. An NGO is required to apply to the Registrar of NGOs for registration within 30 days of its formation. The Minister has powers to exempt any NGO from registration.

The Act requires any NGO registered under the Societies Act or any other written law to within 90 days or such extended period as the Minister may allow for the registration of the NGO apply for a certificate. An NGO shall not be deemed unlawful until the period or extended period for registration has lapsed.

The Act establishes the NGO Board (the “Board”) which shall consist of 15 part time members appointed by the Minister.

The Board is charged with among others the following functions:

(a)     Registering NGOs;

(b)     Approving the area of work of NGOs operating in Zambia;

(c)     Maintaining a register of national and international NGOs operating in Zambia;

(d)     Recommending the rules and procedures for the audit of the accounts of NGOs;

(e)     Prescribing rules for the declaration of assets and liabilities by officers of NGOs;

(f)      Receiving the annual reports of NGOs submitted by the NGOs;

(g)     Advising the Government on the activities of the NGOs and their role in development in Zambia;

(h)     Providing policy guidelines to NGOs for harmonizing their activities to the national development plan for Zambia; and

(i)       Receiving discussing and approving the code of conduct prepared by the Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (the  “Council”) for the self regulation of NGOS.

The Act establishes the Zambia Congress of Non-Governmental Organisations (the “Congress”) which shall be the collective forum of all organizations registered under the Act. The Congress shall be managed and controlled by the Council which shall have 12 members who are representatives of NGOs registered under the Act. The functions of the Council are to develop, adopt and administer the Code of Conduct for NGOs, to facilitate and coordinate the work of NGOs operating in Zambia and to perform any other functions relevant for purposes of the Act as the Congress may determine.

The Council is required to facilitate self regulation by NGOs on matters of activities, funding, programmes, foreign affiliations, training, the development of national human resource, institution building, scientific and technological development and any other matters taking into account national security and the public interest. This shall be the Code and Conduct and the Board shall ensure that it is consistent with the national development plan and the laws of Zambia.

Once an application is submitted, an NGO is permitted to operate until a decision is made by the Board on its application. The Registrar shall issue the NGO with a certificate of registration which is valid for a period of five years and shall be conclusive evidence of authority of the holder to operate throughout Zambia or such parts of the country as are specified therein.

An application for registration of an NGO may be rejected by the Board if the proposed activities of the NGO are not in the public interest, the certificate previously held by the NGO has been revoked by the Board, an applicant submits false information the Board is satisfied on recommendation of the council that the application should not be approved, the constitution of the NGO is repugnant to the law, the application does not comply with provisions of the Act, the Board is satisfied that the NGO does not exist or if the name under which the NGO is to be registered is identical to another existing NGO or is otherwise undesirable.

The Board has the power to suspend or cancel a certificate of an NGO in cases where the NGO violates the terms or conditions attached to the certificate, the NGO fails to submit the annual reports or accounts or returns, the officers or members of the NGO misappropriate or misapply the funds of the organization, the NGO contravenes any provision of the Act or the Code of Conduct, the  Council recommends the suspension or cancellation of the certificate, the NGO alters its objects or pursues objects other than the declared objects or the NGO ceases to exist.

The Registrar is required to publish annually in the gazette, every registration, every suspension or cancellation of registration and every refusal to register an NGO.

The duties of an NGO include notification of the Registrar in writing upon change of name, constitution, objects or when an NGO becomes a branch of or affiliated to or connected with any organization or group of whatever nature established within or outside Zambia. An NGO is also required to furnish the Registrar with information relating to its constitution, source of funding, office bearers, annual reports and such accounts, returns and other information as the Minister may by statutory instrument prescribe. Further, An NGO is required to provide to the Registrar notice of the situation of the registered office and postal address.

By Arshad Dudhia

Musa Dudhia & Co.

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