The Government’ failure to gazette PBO causes apprehension

By Stephen Makabila

The Government’ failure to gazette the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, passed by the 10th Parliament in 2012, has caused apprehension.

The big question is why the Act cannot be gazetted in its original form to become law, especially after amendments were suspended by the current government owing to strong opposition from civil society organisations (CSOs).

The Executive Director of the Eldoret based Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD) Ken Wafula, who served as the chairman of the NGO Council until his ouster last year, says had it been gazzetted, the coming NGO Council polls would have been held under the Act and not the 1990 NGO Coordination Act, which he says has loopholes.

“Our worry is why the Ministry of Devolution has not gazzetted the original PBO Act after attempts to make amendments failed. The Government may be awaiting the lapse of six months to sneak back fresh amendments,” points out Wafula.

The PBO Act 2013 was passed by Parliament in December 2012 and accented to by now retired President Kibaki in January last year.

However, on October 30, 2013, the Attorney General office published in the official gazzette the Miscellaneous Amendment Bill of 2013, which would have slashed foreign funding for NGOs in Kenya. It stated: “A public benefit organisation shall not receive more than 15 per cent of its total funding from external donors,” unless otherwise approved by the finance minister.”

The Bill also sought to stop donors from funding NGOs directly, forcing them instead to channel funds through a new Public Benefits Organizations Federation.

In opposing amendments to the PBO Act, the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) had argued that the overall thrust, content and import of the proposed amendments were to place the country’s civil society under even tighter control of the State than was the case for civil society organisations (CSOs) under the infamous Non-governmental Organisations Co-ordination Act (No.19 of 1990), which the PBO Act repealed.

KHRC, in a statement, had further pointed out that the PBO Act was not only in conformity with the Constitution of Kenya 2010 but was also reflective of a shift in government-civil society relations.

Highlights of the original PBO Act included voluntary self-regulation by PBOs which allows them to determine standards, certifications and adherence to professional code of conduct and secondly, the protection of freedom of association, in line with Article 36 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association.