Aid groups under surveillance as provinces demand illegal “fees”

Humanitarian aid groups in Zimbabwe have dismissed attempts by provincial authorities to impose exorbitant fees on them if they want to keep operating, calling it “illegal” and “corrupt”.

A statement signed by several groups that included the Crisis Coalition and the Human Rights NGO Forum, also revealed that many groups have been placed under “direct surveillance from both state and non-state handlers” and are not allowed to work without escorts.

The development follows last month’s suspension of 29 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by the Governor of Masvingo province, Titus Maluleke, who claimed they had failed to submit memorandums of understanding (MOUs) that he requested last year.

“We have also learnt that some of the NGOs which appear on Maluleke’s ‘ban’ list are organizations which have refused to pay corrupt officials to finalise MOUs,” the statement said.

Other provinces have reportedly followed suit and are forcing NGOs to pay for the MOUs, which the groups insist are not required by law. Fees being charged by the local authorities range from $100 up to $1,000 per year.

“In terms of the 2003 Policy on the Operations of NGOs in Humanitarian and Development Assistance, NGOs are only requested to sign MOUs with Government Ministries or Agencies,” the statement said.

McDonald Lewanika of the Crisis Coalition told SW Radio Africa the provincial fees are “unwarranted and illegal” and NGOs should ignore them. “The fees are not standardized and there is no framework, policy or legislation that exists. It’s clear this is corruption,” Lewanika explained.

He added: “The attack is clearly intensifying with each word about elections uttered by ZANU PF and Robert Mugabe and a clear implementation of their congress resolution to subdue NGOs they perceive as threats to them.”

Patience Zirima, coordinator at The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, expressed the same sentiment, saying: “It’s an affront to democratic principles. People have the right to freedom of association and when you go out into remote areas you really feel that something is going on with the authorities.”

Zirima pointed to the continued disruption of civil society meetings and the interrogations of media practitioners as attempts by the state to limit the information which gets to people ahead of elections.

She said: “This creates an atmosphere of fear and the groups cannot carry out their work of helping people.” Zirima added that NGOs play a critical role and the government should consider them partners instead of enemies.

The groups that signed the statement dismissing MOUs include the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Media Alliance of Zimbabwe, National Association of Non Governmental Organisations, National Constitutional Assembly, Women’s Coalition, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Zimbabwe Election Support Network and Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum. – SW Radio Africa News

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