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SIDA pulls out as PVO Bill sets in


SIDA pulls out as PVO Bill sets in


Ramifications for JSC and LRF


MASVINGO – The Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA), the biggest funder of legal projects in Zimbabwe has pulled out of the country mainly due to the repressive PVO Bill passed by the legislature, The Mirror has been told.
The ramifications of the pull-out are far reaching and one of them is that Zimbabwe Legal Resources Foundation (LRF), a human rights entity that supports over 20 000 vulnerable women and children yearly to access justice closes at the end of this month as its funding dries up.
Over a dozen LRF offices are closing throughout the country with nine lawyers and over 40 support staff losing their jobs.
Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Monica Mutsvangwa regretted the closure of LRF and said it will have negative effects on women and children’s rights.
LRF supports women and children’s rights like inheritance, family law rights, property sharing, birth certificates for children and their legal representation. It trains traditional leaders like village heads and chiefs on the law and does public awareness campaigns on human rights which is an area that the ruling party is uncomfortable with.
The closure of LRF creates a void that will leave marginalized women and children with virtually no access to justice and hence a human rights crisis in the courts.
SIDA is also probably the largest donor funder of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Veritas, and Zimli. SIDA which ironically built several magistrates courts in Zimbabwe when President Mnangagwa was Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has moved across the border to Zambia. It funded the construction of Masvingo, Marondera, Chitungwiza and Rotten Row magistrates’ courts.
Currently JSC has financial problems to the extent of failing to procure cars for Judges.
Swedish Embassy in Zimbabwe Deputy Head of Mission and SIDA country Head Berthollet Bwira Kaboru confirmed the pull out to The Mirror.
He said the pull-out is because the agency has run out of resources. Sources close to the matter however, told The Mirror that this was just diplomatic politeness adding that sections of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill and in particular Section 21 and 22 were so repressive that SIDA said it cannot work with partners who are subjected to such draconian laws.
“SIDA is pulling out because of PVO that stifles free financial and expressive freedoms for the funder and implementing partner and its repressive nature,” said a source.
Section 21 and 22 of the amended law calls for death penalty or life in prison if arraigned for supporting terrorism and money laundering. The PVO Bill gives the registrar sweeping powers against the voluntary organisations.
Efforts to get a comment from LRF Executive Director Valerie Zviuya were futile.
“There is no logic to it. We are out of resources. The contract expires either at the end of March or April this year. Contracts with all organisations expire all the time and this is normal. We have a good working relationship with the LRF and we are still partners,” he said.
The crucial services offered by LRF are legal representation, legal education and research and advocacy.
The LRF has a building in Harare, rented regional and many district offices where paralegals and interns are employed to give legal service to the vulnerable.
Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Ziyambi Ziyambi told The Mirror in an interview that the PVO is not yet law and cannot be the reason for SIDA’s departure. He however, said that Government is not yet informed about the move.
“I can’t comment on the matter because SIDA has not told us its reasons for leaving. The PVO bill has not been ascented into an act and it therefore can’t be reason for their withdrawal,” he said.
“We have had a long standing relationship with LRF and the fact that they are now winding up operations will definitely impact negatively on access to justice by our vulnerable women. Access to justice is a fundamental human right. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude for the work that LRF has done,” said Mutsvangwa.
LRF has been operational since 1985 with five regional offices in Mutare, Masvingo, Gweru, Bulawayo and Harare. It has district offices across in almost all 10 provinces. Its services include legal representation, research and advocacy, legal education, and strengthening justice delivery.
Regional offices in Mutare and Gweru are already shut down while the Masvingo office is only left with two staffers from nine.
SIDA supported LRF with a budget of about US$1,5 million annually while 11 other organisations poured in US$1, 2 million.

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