Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) Board Chairperson Mahamba Chiputa says the civil society is nearly extinct because of external pressure from those in government.

In a statement today, Chiputa asked those in government not alter the Non-Governmental Organisation Policy which was collectively developed together with the civil society as a key stakeholder.

“I’m worried that the once vibrant Civil Society is nearly extinct on account of external pressures to a point where they are failing to foster an active citizenship particularly of the youth and women…Ten Months in the year 2017, our journey as a Civil Society Organisation in advocating for accountability, good governance, social justice, equality and quality service delivery has not been an easy one considering the current political culture and shrinking civil society enabling environment. Furthermore, CSOs are generally facing inadequate funding for administrative purposes to make them more effective, and this is even worse for Community Based Organisations (CBOs) spread across the country especially in the rural districts,” Chiputa stated.

“To make the work of the Civil Society Organisation easier and effective and contribute to the development of our society, I call for those in government NOT to alter the Non-Governmental Organisation Policy which was collectively developed with civil society as a key stakeholder. I believe that the NGO policy should be used as bedrock for the repeal of our current NGO Act No. 16 of 2009, which was rejected by the Civil Society Organisations on the basis that it did not carry with it the aspirations and the spirit of Civil Society. The rejected law, the NGO Act No. 16 of 2009 was an imposition by those in government on the Civil Societies as a way of silencing the voice of the Civil Society.”

He stated that there was need for co-existence between government and CSOs in order to achieve a greater economic and political outlook in the country.

“In today’s increasingly integrated world, the most important transformative shift is perhaps towards a new rights-based spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability. The current economic and political outlook of our great nation, Zambia must be premised on a renewed partnership with collective action and commitment from all; government, as well as civil society, businesses, philanthropic foundations, academia and other local and international organisations. ZCSD believes that in an ideal world, citizens and civil society organisations would operate in an environment conducive to progressive action – one that would allow them the freedom to create, share and enact a vision for society that is just and fair,” Chiputa stated.

Chiputa also noted that Zambia’s national governance institutions were focused on the wants of political leaders rather than the needs of majority citizens.

“In order to achieve this ideal, we must concede that citizen action also requires robust and accountable institutions, from the local to the supra national level, to support citizens in this endeavour. However, our national governance institutions are frequently opaque in their processes and remain focused on what our political leaders want rather than what citizens need. Our governance structures reflect political power dynamics that allow poverty to thrive and inequities to emerge as a new social 1 Page phenomena, wealth is becoming more a preserve of the ruling class while the civil service has been hard hit by the dreaded tsunami of ‘Retirement in National Interest’. There is urgent need for stakeholders to take keen interest in these issues in order to cultivate harmony in the nation,” he stated.

“There is no question that we urgently need to transform our national governance institutions. But for the overwhelming majority of the country’s population, local governance remains steeped in mystery and the case for reform needs to be clearly made. Without broad citizen engagement and participation in these processes, the self-preservation instincts of our elites will ensure the continuation of the status quo. At ZCSD, we observe with keen interest the gradual deterioration of Human Rights and Freedoms. Mainly we are concerned about the misapplication of the Public Order Act Cap 113 of the Laws of Zambia by the law enforcement officers. As citizens, we no longer enjoy the Freedoms of Assembly, Expression and Association. We need to urgently demand for the repealing of this Act and replace it with a law that will befit a modern democratic dispensation and development paradigm.”

Meanwhile, Chiputa stated that the nation was losing out a lot of resources to corruption due to the lack of the Access to Information Bill.

“As a nation, Access to Information (ATI) must be treated as a development priority. Currently we have no tools to promote accountability and transparency; hence the nation is losing out a lot of resources to corruption. ATI would also be instrumental in strengthening the media and encourage Press Freedom which to a large extent has been suffocated. Government should not underplay the urgency and need to quickly enact the Access to Information Bill into law. We need to double the efforts and demand that ATI Bill returns to parliament,” stated Chiputa.