Do “Banned” NGOs Have a Case?
Written by admin on August 23, 2021
The communication suspending the operations of some non-governmental organizations has caused confusion and disruptions across a section of the affected entities and fears among others.
The majority of the NGOs have since claimed they were never given prior notice, having heeded to previous warnings by the NGO Bureau. The directive affects 54 entities some of which received letters written on the same day, August 20, while others said they just heard their names mentioned in the media.
Most of the NGOs affected had just been approved for operations less than a week before, according to the information at the NGO Bureau, hence the confusion at the sudden action. “The Bureau maintains an updated register of the NGOs permitted to operate in the country and regularly releases the register to the public. Stakeholders and the public are hereby informed that; this is the Updated National NGO Register as of August 16, 2021.”
However, the line of disclaimer by the board might leave less room by the NGOs to complain. “This Updated Register shall vary at the discretion of the NGO Bureau,” it reads. Most of the affected NGOs claim innocence, saying they follow all the regulations, including registration, filing returns and financial disclosure.
Youth Line Forum, an organization that works to promote young people by enabling them to access equal opportunities says they do not stop at complying but also mobilise other NGOs to respect regulation.
“We have been filing our annual returns, have a valid permit, have incorporated with URSB and registered with the Financial Intelligence Authority. Youth Line Forum appears on the official list of the NGOs permitted by the bureau to operate,” says Ruth Asiimwe Kabugo, the Strategy, Fundraising and Partnerships Director.
The group says that they are ready to engage the Bureau through diplomatic and lawful means, as they “continue to operate legally.”
“We have a track record of calling upon NGOs to comply with the state regulations as they push back and reclaim their civic space. As a matter of fact, we are currently supporting 300 organizations countrywide to synchronize their operations with the law,” Asiimwe adds.
According to the Updated National NGO Register as of 16 August 2021, there are 2,239 permitted to operate. Those not appearing on the register include the Great Lakes Institute on Strategic Studies, GLISS, a public policy researcher and think-tank, whose operations were halted immediately.
“We got a letter from NGO Bureau halting our operations. It refers to activities of a non-profit nature that they do not list. We maintain the Bureau is used once again to perpetuate political and administrative harassment of our organization. We will be seeking clarity from URSB,” said GLISS Executive Director, Godber Tumushabe.
This also includes Afiego, the Africa Institute of Energy Governance, which claims that they are a not-for-profit organization, but that the NGO Bureau has no mandate over their activities. “This is political persecution for the work we are doing. We shall challenge the decision in the court of law,” said Executive Director Dickens Kamugisha.
Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, the CEO of Witness Radio Uganda, whose activities were halted for operating without registering with the NGO Bureau also shared the same views. The Bureau says GLISS and other NGOs under that category must have a permit:
“Any person or group of persons incorporated as an organization under the Companies Act or Trustees Incorporation Act and those that fall within the definition of the organization under the Act shall register under the law.” The Uganda National NGO Forum, the civil society umbrella organization, says they are engaging with the Bureau and so far have more information about the affected 54 organizations.
These also touch on community-based organizations that are registered as Companies Limited by Guarantee, and whether they fall under the regulation of the NGO Act 2016 or not. The Forum had on Friday condemned the Bureau for taking action without consulting the NGOs, which it said creates a difficult working environment for the organizations.
The NGO Forum says they continue to seek more clarifications and study the laws, while engaging with the regulator. Chapter Four Uganda, a legal aid group saw its operations indefinitely suspended, alongside Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), for allegedly consistently failing to file annual returns and audited books of accounts, “and have other non-compliance issues”.
The records at the Bureau show that the years of violation as 2016 to 2020. Nicholas Opiyo, the Executive Director Chapter Four, displayed a receiving slip from the NGO Bureau showing returns from 2016 to 2019, filed in January 2021, without explaining the year 2020.
“We will be writing to the National Bureau for NGOs reminding them of this and other documents filed with them and other authorities in Jan this year. Audited accounts, source of funding et al. We’ve always acted above board and repudiate any representation of unlawful conduct on our part,” he said on his social media channels.
“We have been in touch with different stakeholders including the NGO Bureau who have offered useful information on the matter. The NGO Bureau as the Regulator of all NGOs in the country is committed to resolving all compliance-related matters,” says a statement from the NGO Forum. Some foreign missions in Uganda have since expressed concern at the move and called for quick solutions to settle it, due to the importance of civil society to Uganda’s development.
“Civil society is a key partner making vital contributions to Uganda’s development. We look forward to the resolution of any issues with registration of organizations so that this important work can continue in the spirit of a genuine partnership based on mutual accountability,” said the European Delegation in Uganda. And on their part the US Embassy in Uganda, in a brief statement, called for prompt resolution of the issues.
“Civil society makes an invaluable contribution to all areas of Uganda’s development. We hope any issues with registration of organizations can be resolved promptly so their important work can continue in the spirit of genuine partnership based on mutual accountability.”