Saturday, 31 October 2015

Kenya moves to cripple human-rights lobby

The Kenyan state is on the warpath yet again. This time using the proxy of the Non-Governmental Organisations Co-ordination Board — which last week announced through the media that it was deregistering 957 NGOs. Not to mention ordering the Central Bank of Kenya to issue instructions to the banks of those NGOs to freeze their accounts.
The reasons given? Supposedly that, following a “forensic audit” of the 10,015 NGOs registered under the NGO Act, those 957 NGOs have failed to account for the funds they received.
Alarming indeed. Until we see one of the only three organisations it chose to single out in its statement: The Kenya Human Rights Commission. Which it accuses of “operating four illegal bank accounts” and filing “false reports” and audited accounts that show a discrepancy of Ksh1.2 million.
The KRHC’s response was immediate. It circulated a public rejoinder to the NGO Co-ordination Board noting that it had not once received any question about its audited accounts — dutifully filed annually with the NGO Co-ordination Board.
Demanding to see the so-called forensic audit referred to, as well as the immediate retraction of the slur on its reputation. It also noted its concern that — like everybody else — it had only seen the report of its featuring on the list of NGOs to be deregistered in the media. It had not received any communication from the NGO Board to that effect.
Where does the truth lie?
No doubt there are some who will be found guilty of improper accounting for and misuse or theft of grantmakers’ funds. But that sort of problem sorts itself out naturally — once a grantmaker realises that’s the case, they simply turn off the taps. And the grantmaking world is small — word gets round and the NGO is blacklisted.
Even if the grantmaker concerned doesn’t opt for criminal prosecution which, frankly, they should. To prevent individuals involved from being able to continue to rotate through civil society.
But (for sure) the KHRC is not one of those NGOs. It is probably the best-funded human-rights organisation around. It has had a fairly stable core group of grantmakers for many years. That could not continue to be the case were it or its staff or its directors guilty of what the NGO Co-ordination Board is trying to make it out to be.
So what could the NGO Board be trying to achieve?
Frankly, it is yet another case of regulatory harassment. Plus public defamation and slander. That and the preliminary points referred to above will be easily proved when the KHRC heads to the court.
But, going by this year’s experience of Haki Africa and Muslims for Human Rights, the Kenyan state is unconcerned with being proven wrong in a court of law. Or even with upholding court decisions.
Haki Africa and Muhuri got court orders that the Kenyan state remove them from the list of “designated entities” under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. To date, that removal has not translate into the unfreezing of their accounts. Meaning that their operations remain crippled.
That is, no doubt, what the state wants for the KHRC as well. To cripple its operations, regardless of the law.
L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. She is also a former executive director and current board member of the KHRC.

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