State moves to cut NGOs foreign cash

Written by PBO Act 2013 on .

The Government is set on a collision course with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the country over a proposed new law regulating the flow of foreign funds.

The Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013, published on October 30, which itself comes hot on the heels of a backlash over the controversial Kenya Information and Communication Bill (2013) seeks to cap the amount of foreign funds NGOs can get to 15 per cent of their budget.

 It will also have far-reaching implications on State corporations particularly the National Youth Council, a body corporate whose top organ is composed of members elected directly by the youth.

In the new Bill which NGOs are likely to interpret as aimed at clamping down on their activities, NGOs will only get more than the 15 per cent of their budget from foreign countries if they demonstrate extraordinary circumstance why they require the funds.

If it sails through the National Assembly and gets assented to by President Uhuru Kenyatta, this could severely affect NGOs and the civil societies most of which depend 100 per cent of their budgets from foreign funding.

Even then, the extra funds will be channeled through a federation.

The controversial sections are contained in the Statute Law(Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2013 as amendments to The Public Benefits Organizations Act, 2013 (No. 18 of 2013). Section 27 A(2) states: “A public benefit organisation shall not receive more than 15 per cent of its total funding from external donors.”

On the other hand, section 27A. (1) states: “Any funding of a public benefit organization shall be made through the federation and not by an individual members’ organization.”

Yesterday, NGO representatives accused Devolution Cabinet Secretary Ann Waiguru of allegedly sneaking in the controversial clauses with the aim, of controlling the civil society and the youth council.

“Muzzling National Youth Council and tying the hands of NGOs is not in the interest of the Kenya and the youth in general. The NGO sector employs so many youth and closing their funding will result into loss of jobs as most will leave the country and set shop elsewhere,” said Billy Mijungu, of National Youth Council.

A member of the civil society who did not want to be named said generally the amendments to the initial law are good but the two new sections on foreign funding which have allegedly been sneaked in are meant to control the NGOs sector which in some quarters are deemed to be anti-establishment and this could spell their death.

“If it is passed in its present form, it would make it hard for NGOs in the country to operate as it would cripple their source of funding,” said the source, adding that; “Most of the donors would also certainly not be keen on supporting the local NGOs with the repressive law.”

The Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Bill, 2012 which became law having been assented to by retired President Kibaki on January 14 last year was meant to bring order into the sector.

Conflicting clauses

Submitted as a private members Bill by former nominated MP Sophia Abdi Noor with the support of the parliamentary committee on Labor and Social Services in the 10th Parliament, the law was ostensibly drafted to create a conducive environment for the growth and operations of NGOs and among other things stipulated that it would promote a re-birth of values within the sector by establishing an effective legal, regulatory and institutional framework for NGOs,” Noor had said last year when it was enacted into law.

The new amendments to the law were aimed at rectifying conflicting clauses in it but NGOs argued the law would sound a death knell to the country’s vibrant civil society.

The proposed amendment in section 17 (1) (a) under the functions of the council says the advisory board “shall receive and approve the plans, reports, financial statements and the budget of the council….”

This provision, the youth lobbies claimed yesterday, will see the council lose independence to an outfit whose role should merely be advisory.

They noted that the amendment comes 11 months after the council was established and is struggling to operationalise due to lack funding from the government despite Parliament passing a motion to fund the council,”

They further claimed the Bill also in section 16 removes youth representation from the youth advisory board whose members are individuals nominated by Kenya Private Sector Alliance, National Council for People with Disability, non-governmental organisations working in the youth sector, public universities and Nacada.

Advocacy committee

“Its so sad that some individuals in the government want to oppress the youth even as the President and the deputy President burn the midnight oil to empower young people,” said Arnold Maliba, the National Youth Council’s chair of the communication, policy and advocacy committee.

He said the proposed amendments on the National Youth Council Act giving managerial power to the advisory board is meant to create continuous wrangles between the council and the board thus rendering the young institution a lame duck.

“The suggestions are archaic and are in contravention with various provisions in the Act that give the council independence and autonomy,” he said.

Maliba said the amendment in sections 16 and 17 deny young people representation to the board and takes away power from the council which is the management board according state corporations act gives it to people who will be handpicked by the Cabinet Secretary and whose loyalty might not be with the interest of young people.

“The proposed amendments in my view are answers to why the government has been slow in funding the council 11 months since its inception, and that is the fear to have a well funded and independent youth council. This draconian attempt to muzzle the council will fall flat on the faces of the mercenaries in the youth sector who want to continually oppress the youth,” Maliba said.

Kenya has a vibrant civil society and acts as a regional hub for many international NGOs operating in the region.

Civil society organisations may be registered as non-profit companies, trusts, societies, community-based organisations or as NGOs.

This article was published in The People on 4 November 2013