'State keen on crippling civil society'

Questions still linger on the Jubilee government's commitment to upholding the Constitution with regard to free operations of civil society organisations (CSOs) in the country.

The relationship between the State and civil society has been frosty in the last two and half years, with concerns of muzzling of NGOs taking centre-stage.

Currently, the Government is trying for the third time to make changes to the main law governs the operations of CSOs.

Chairperson Task Force on the Public Benefits Organizations Acts Sophia Abdi Noor hands over a report by the tasks force to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Ann Waiguru at her Harambee House office on 21/5/2015. (PHOTO: FIDELIS KABUNYI/ STANDARD)

It has emerged the NGO Co-ordinating Board that operates under the Devolution ministry has forwarded proposed amendments to the Public Benefits Organisations (PBO) Act (2013) to Parliament, limiting external funding of NGOs to no more than 15 per cent.

Two previous attempts to pass the changes restricting external funding of NGOs, among other measures, were not successful.

Civil society saw the proposed changes to the PBO Act as a serious threat to the constitutional right of freedom of association, which placed at risk the ability of CSOs to carry out their activities effectively, independently and free from State interference.

The changes also required all civil society organisations to register afresh, raising fears that some organisations that were not in the good books of the Government would be locked out.

Enhancing deadlock

Recently, a task force was formed to gather views from across the country on the PBO Act, but members drawn from Government and civil society were split over recommendations, further enhancing the deadlock.

Civil society leader John Githongo expressed concern that while the Constitution gives considerable leeway for the operations of civil society institutions, the current Government was undermining those provisions.

He said unlike the previous government of President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, the current regime was hostile to civil society, seeing them as enemies rather than partners.

"The hostility may be due to perceptions that civil society had a hand in the International Criminal Court cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto. But no evidence of this has ever been produced," he said.

Chris Gitari, a human rights lawyer with the International Centre for Transitional Justice, said several attempts by the Jubilee government to change the law governing the NGO sector portrayed a lack of respect for the Constitution.

Civil society groups insist the PBO Act, developed through wide consultations among stakeholders in the sector, should be implemented since it captures the spirit of the Constitution. But the Government wants the law to be changed before it is implemented.