Zim passes controversial NGO bill

Zimbabwe's parliament passed a controversial bill on Thursday restricting foreign non-governmental organisations (NGO) involved in human rights work or issues of governance and cutting foreign funding to local groups engaged in similar work.

The bill, which provoked weeks of intensive debate and slammed by critics as draconian, was approved by 48 members and opposed by 28 lawmakers and was passed in the third reading in the 150-seat house.

Social Welfare Minister Paul Mangwana said: "This bill is the best law to be enacted by this parliament."

The bill has been condemned as "unconstitutional", "retrogressive", "satanic", "draconian" and "punitive."

It was however expected to sail through parliament, which is dominated by President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF).

The opposition and human rights groups however say the bill, which comes ahead of crucial parliamentary elections in March, could also limit the work of churches.

Once signed into law, all NGO’s would have to register afresh, a process they fear could take a long time.

An elections advocacy group, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) has said the bill would adversely affect NGOs' preparations for the polls and also was contrary to a regional electoral reform charter, which Zimbabwe assented to in August.