Top Stories / National
Friday, 23 Sep 2016 18:03 EATnewsdesk@kenyafreepress.com
Civil society organizations have welcomed the government's decision to implement the Public Benefit Organization Act, which was passed in the dying days of the grand coalition government to regulate the non-profit sector. In what appeared to be a major reversal of four years of Jubilee's policy, the cabinet secretary for Devolution and Planning Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri has asked the Attorney General's office to gazette the Act.
Mr Kiunjuri wrote to the AG on September 9, 2016 after a series of consultative meetings with civil society representatives, and he seemingly had acceded to the sector's demand that the law be implemented as it was passed by the grand coalition Parliament. In an intriguing twist, however, a member of the public has gone to court to stop the gazettment, in what civil society leaders now read as part of contuining resistance in government against the law's implementation.
The Act was widely negotiated between the government and civil society. It was passed by Parliament weeks before the House was dissolved, and President Mwai Kibaki signed it into law on January 14, 2013. However, the lame cabinet minister in office during the electioneering period did not set its commencement date.
The Act gives the non-profit sector, including NGOs and charities, total independence and protections. When Jubilee took power in April 2013, the government turned its back on the law, claiming it was too generous to civil society groups and proposing punitive amendments that the sector and human rights groups opposed.
Mr Kiunjuri's predecessor, Anne Waiguru, had frosty relations with NGOs over her hardline stance on the Act until she was ejected out of office last November over corruption allegations.
Mr Kiunjuri's instruction to the AG to gazette the Act received praise from the Civil Society Reference Group (CSRG). CSRG has consequently called on the Attorney General Githu Muigai to speedily gazette the commencement date. “The decision will no doubt restore confidence and cooperation from stakeholders by streamlining the legislative framework under which NGOs operate.
"This will create an enabling environment and make Kenya the center of choice for local and international human rights, humanitarian, governance and development agencies,” CSRG coordinator Suba Churchill said at the Nairobi Safari Club, Nairobi, Thursday when he addressed a press Conference.
He warned that civil society groups will not hesitate to resort to street protests should the AG delay the gazettement of the commencement date of the Act. “We are however convinced that Kiunjuri’s announcement is government’s decision and therefore, in the spirit of collective responsibility, we assume that the AG will go ahead and gazette the commencement date sooner than later,” Suba said.
Mr Suba said that the implementation of the PBO Act would bring sanity in the volunteer sector by streamlining the registration and deregistration of NGOs. He decried the current legal environment in which some NGOs were unfairly being targeted and deregistered by the NGO Coordination Bureau which acted without a functional Board over the three years that the PBO Act remained in limbo.
Another civil society official, Edwin Kiama, told the Kenya Free Press that he read mischief in the suit. Mr Kiama feared that some senior officials in government were still opposed to the law, but he hopes that the good judgement that had motivated Mr Kiunjuri to write to the AG would prevail and pave way for the law's full implementation.