The Public Benefits Organization Bill aims to streamline the NGO Sector

There have been many things said about NGOs and a lot of what has made it to the public space has been hostility. Perceptions about the sector include the fact that NGOs answer to foreign donors and thus have no local interests, that the sector is full of fraudsters, that it is a get-rich-quickly personal poverty eradication programme etc.

The sector workers and operatives have not helped matters – what with the wrangling, the presence of several NGO Councils, the prevalence of people who form organisation and get money from donors and then don’t do what they propose to do. The sector has had a bad name. The multiple registration regimes for civil society groups was big blessing since the KANU era stifled the operating environment and curtailed the operation of these organisations.

It is still a blessing to the whole question of voluntary organising and the freedom of association. But what this has led to is an inability to regulate the sector on a uniform set of mutually agreed rules.  The fact that there has not been an enabling legislation setting out a system of norms and practice has indeed been the problem.

This must be changed, this must be corrected and a new operating environment – that clarifies issues for both the sector workers and the general public. The Cabinet of the Republic of Kenya realised this and developed a Cabinet paper in 2006 and later a Cabinet Memo in 2008 requiring that a new framework for regulation of the NGO sector be developed. It is our opinion that a change in how the sector is managed can only be realised if and when the proposed public benefits organisation (PBO) Bill 2012 is enacted. 

The Bill was developed by civil society organisations in Kenya led by the CSO Reference Group, an umbrella body of civil society organisations formed in 2009 to support CSOs in Kenya review the NGO Coordination Act no 19 of 1990.

 It was published in the Kenya Gazette Vol. CXIV – No.35 on 4th May 2012 as a private members Bill with the support of Hon. Sophia Abdi Noor, Chairman, Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare. The Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Bill 2012 seeks to achieve a new legal, regulatory and institutional framework for civil society organisations (CSOs) doing public benefit work in Kenya.

The process for the development of the bill has been the most participatory as compared to any other bill. There has been systematic consultation with sector players in thematic groups and in regional blocks. The government department responsible for the sector – the NGO Board- has contributed immensely to the process and there have been wide consultations with leaders both in and out of parliament – including structured dialogue with the relevant government departments and the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Welfare
CSO Reference Group Members EzraMbogori and Faith Kisinga   

The first thing the Bill does is to define what a Public Benefit Organization (PBO) is. This is because organisations need to know that they exist not because of the founders or workers, but because of Kenyans. In the Bill, a PBO is defined as “a voluntary grouping of individuals or organizations that is organized and operated locally, nationally or internationally, to support or promote public benefit”.

The Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Bill 2012 if enacted into law will lead to a strong Public Benefit Organisations sector promoting social welfare and improving the conditions and quality of life for the people of Kenya.

It will also be easy to create greater coherence coordination with the Government, private sector and development partners, enforce high standards of governance, transparency and accountability by organizations – including the provision that members of governing body of an organization respect gender parity, do not come from same family, are persons of high integrity and with a clean public record.

Most important is that the PBO Bill 2012 proposes mechanisms of compliance with the Constitution of Kenya as enacted in 2010.

The Bill sets out clear mechanisms to be used for an organization to gain the status of a PBO. These include democratization of the governance framework in the organization. If enacted, the Bill will ensure that My-Own-NGOs (MONGOs) are eliminated and instead we will have functionally useful institutions that serve the greater public good.

Enacting the bill will enable the government to have a uniform system of norms by which to hold the sector accountable. The sector will also be able to get benefits in a systematic way from the state. Tax exemptions and funding for CSOs are some of the proposed benefits when an organization complies with the PBO status as outlined in the Bill. We foresee that the problem easily associated with “a foreign agenda” will be eliminated.

The Bill has gone through the first and second reading and is awaiting the Committee stage before it is enacted into law. At this time, all citizens, citizen groups and other interested parties are free to contribute inputs, critique and make suggestions on how to make the PBO Bill better. Petitions and comments can be sent to the Parliamentary Committee or forwarded through the CSO reference Group. Let us all participate!

Categories: Opinion

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