The Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act Operationalised

President Ruto has recently operationalized the Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act, which has been in legislative limbo for a decade. The Act was passed by parliament and also received a presidential assent back in 2013, but it wasn’t immediately operationalised due to various delays and political challenges.

The PBO Act was initially drafted and introduced in 2012 as part of a collaborative effort between the Kenyan Government, the Civil Society and other International Partners. It was meant to replace the existing NGO Coordination Act which was considered to be too inadequate and too outdated to be able to regulate a growing and diverse Civil Society.

Around this time, a new government came in with new priorities. This caused significant delays in its actual implementation. Two High Court orders in 2016 and 2017 weren’t enough to compel the government to commence the Act.

Throughout this period of delay, Civil Society Organisations continued to push for the operationalisation of the PBO Act. The Operationalisation of an Act refers to the process of putting a law into effect after it has been passed by the Legislature and has received approval by the Executive. It involves taking the necessary administrative, regulatory and procedural steps in order to ensure that the provisions of the Act are implemented and enforced as intended by the Legislation.

Finally in May 2024, President Ruto’s government has announced the commencement of the Act through Legal Notice No.78 of 2024.  

Here are some of the key highlights of the PBO Act:

  • Definition of PBO: under the PBO Act, a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) is defined as a voluntary membership or non membership grouping of individuals or organisations. It must be autonomous, non-partisan, non-profit making, and engaged in public benefit activities. PBOs can operate at the local, national or international level.
  • Transition from NGO to PBO: Formerly registered non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will now be referred to as Public Benefit Organisations (PBOs).
  • Re-registration of NGOs: The PBO Act stipulates that all existing NGOs must apply for fresh registration within 12 months of the commencement date of the Act (May 2024). Failure to do so will result in them losing their status as PBOs. They will cease to exist under the new legal framework.
  • Previously exempt NGOs: Any NGOs that were previously exempt from registration under the old NGO Act are now required to apply for registration under the PBO Act within 3 months of the commencement date.
  • International PBOs: International Organisations wishing to operate in Kenya must register under the Act and ensure that at least one third of their directors are Kenyan citizens residing in Kenya.
  • Regulatory and Oversight Mechanisms: The Act establishes the Public Benefit Organisations Regulatory Authority, which will oversee the registration, regulation and compliance of PBOs. It also allows for self regulation within the sector through independent PBO forums that develop and enforce standards of conduct.
  • Streamlined Registration Process: The Act simplifies the registration process for PBOs, reducing administrative discretion (the flexibility and judgement exercised by government officials or regulatory authorities in the process of registering organisations). Registration certificates are now issued within 60 days of application.

President Ruto has pointed out that the operationalisation of the PBO Act is part of his administration’s efforts to strengthen the civil society. By consolidating the various legislations governing the civil society into one predictable legal regime, the government aims to form a stronger partnership with the civil society, enabling them to play a critical role in national development, policy shaping and holding the government accountable.

This move is seen as an important step towards enhancing the operational environment for non profits in Kenya. It provides clarity and support to these organisations that are working towards the public’s benefit.

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