A bill introduced this week in the Zambian parliament calls for the registration and co-ordination of NGOs. If the bill becomes law it would empower the interior minister to form a board that, among other things, will provide policy guidelines for NGOs. But civil societies say they fear this will severely compromise their work and independence.

Emily Joyce Sikazwe is the executive director, Women for Change in the capital, Lusaka. Akwei Thompson asked her about the basis for their fears.

?Because we think that the NGO bill has been conceived in bad taste?now what is interesting is that the President of Zambia is a lawyer and a member of the law society, The Attorney-General is a former member of the Oasis Forum, a group that is calling for the ushering in of a new constitution to which Women for Change and Non-Governmental Organization Coordinating Comittee belong. The Minister of Justice is the former chairperson of the Law Association of Zambia. And for the first time in Zambia, they?re creating a draconian bill designed to protect their own interest,? Ms. Sikazwe said.

Ms Sizkazwe added: ? They?re targeting NGOs like Women for Change, Oasis Forum and so on and so forth because we are the ones making them stand on their toes and we?re calling for accountability.?

According to Ms. Sikazwe there?s no difference between the bill and the constitutional conference bill. The reason she explained is ?because we?re demanding a new constitution, while they want partial amendment to protect themselves in power.  ?They?re also saying that any NGO that has not been registered through the new bill will not participate in the constitution conference, so obviously they?re excluding certain organizations and we?ll not allow them.?

Ms. Sikazwe said the NGOs are calling for self regulation, the same way ?The Law Association of Zambia of which these three gentlemen are members, has a self-regulatory mechanism.?