Formation of PBO Taskforce, Major Breakthrough

Nairobi, November 7, 2014 – The Kenya Dialogues Project at the Society for International Development  welcomes the establishment of an eleven person taskforce to consult stakeholders on amendments to the Public Benefits Act 2013. Yesterday’s, 7th November 2014, announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning has averted a major crisis in State-CSO relations. The taskforce should embark immediately on broad and deep consultations on ways of strengthening and implementing the PBO Act. 
The taskforce is a welcome step away from the attempt to rush 54 substantive amendments through an already crowded Parliamentary agenda, and without meaningful consultations among key stakeholders. These amendments sought to make compulsory the migration of over 350,000 NGOs, trusts, foundations, community based organisations and companies limited by guarantee from several Acts into an amended PBO Act. The migration of 350,000 agencies of differing identity, size and orientation to one Act requires trust-building and dialogue. Any attempt to have rushed this process would have been predictably futile and a waste of public resources. 
Among other sweeping recommendations, the proposed amendments would also have further removed parliamentary and judiciary oversight over the sector and controversially, capped foreign funding to no more than 15% at a time when there are hardly any avenues for local resource mobilization. 32 of the proposed recommendations would have rendered the original Act unrecognizable.
The selection of Sophia Abdi Noor, former MP and mover of the original Act places experienced and trusted leadership at the head of the taskforce. Having worked closely with Sophia Abdi Noor as an advisor to the Kenya Dialogues Project, we offer her and the taskforce any necessary resources they require to complete this process in an inclusive and productive manner. Only an open, consultative and transparent enquiry has the greatest chance of success.
1. The PBO Act 2013 was enacted after a four year old consultative process among PBOs and MPs to create a law that would hold the sector accountable to the state, peer PBOs and the public. H.E. President Mwai Kibaki assented to the Act in January 2013. 22 months later the Act has been sitting on the shelves awaiting commencement.
2. In November 2013, 13 amendments to the PBO Act were rejected by the National Assembly and PBOs under the CSO Reference Group. The 15% cap on foreign funding was particularly unpopular among MPs, CSOs and citizens. In July 2014, new and more acceptable amendments were introduced only at the last minute to be withdrawn by the Jubilee National Assembly Majority Leader.
3. In October 2014, a memorandum has been circulating within the Ministry of Devolution and Planning and the NGO Council. It is believed to inform a Private Members Bill by Hon Moses Kuria proposed sweeping and substantive recommendations to the PBO Act. Many of the proposals added little to public accountability clauses already in the Act. A number of them were impractical, unconstitutional even and sought ultimately to constrain civic space rather than build a permanent basis for state-CSO convergence and collaboration.