THE government of Tanzania has put civil societies, including churches and religious organizations in disarray following its proposed Amendments to the Societies Act gazetted on 30th May 2019 and publicized on 19th June 2019 the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) No. 3 Act, 2019.
Human rights activists are already concerned about this move that may trigger further strife between the government and people of faith like it has never been before. A statement by Amnesty International outlines the proposed bill, raising alarm over Tanzania’s continued violation of human rights.
The amendments as stated have grave implications for most of the established religious institutions in Tanzania many of which have operated with relative independence and freedom until recently. Under current laws, religious institutions have been registered under the Registrar of Societies in accordance with the Societies Act (1954) while filing their trustees with the Registrar General as per the Trustees Incorporation Act (1959). The proposed amendments include some critical changes:
Section 35 (k) empowers the Minister (of Home Affairs) by order published in the Gazette to declare an organization not to be a society for the purpose of this Act: The article provides no due process for such order by the minister. Neither does it provide for an appeal mechanism in the event of a dispute against such ministerial decision. It does not at all provide for any conditions that may lead to such order by the minister while providing absolutely no checks on such discretion by the minister.
Section 36 amends section 3 and 4 of the original Societies Ordinance (1954) setting two critical clauses. Clause 3 requires that any society to only operate subject to the fulfilment of the requirements of the act. This provides a grey area in term of such requirements as adhering to good governance, morality and order which are indeed vague words open to interpretation. As per the act and the proposed amendments, the minister may decide that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania has violated “national morality” by drawing a particular sermon or message over time which the Minister may deem as such. By virtue of the act that would indeed be enough to deregister the church.
Under clause 4, an organization that does not meet the requirements of section two shall by August 30 (2019) become invalid. This essentially implies that churches and other religious organizations must now seek clarification from the ministry on whether or not they meet the said requirements the determination of which rests with the registrar of societies.
Perhaps the most alarming clause in the amendments is Section 38, which amends section 8 of the principal act by replacing subsection (2) of the same to introduce a rather disturbing close.
It states that any society declared by order of the minister to be a society dangerous to the good governance of Tanzania shall be declared to be unlawful under the provisions of this section and every suborder made under the provisions of this section shall continue in force until revoked under this Act. The clause further states … “any society against which such an order under this section is made, shall be de-registered.”
It is difficult, at this stage, to fully comprehend the full repercussions of the proposed amendments. But should the law pass as is religious organizations churches, Islamic and others will have until 30th August to seek the mercy of the Minister for Home Affairs to remain compliant and legal under the law. As of 1st September, most such institutions risk becoming illegal organizations by the stroke of the Minister’s order!
For the government that has spent three years consecutively undermining human rights and independence of opinion, and having been in a tug of war with churches and other religious organisation last year, few people would have expected such a nasty move at this time.