NGOs bill upsets Ugandan civil society

A new bill by the government says growth of NGOs led to subversive work and activity and undermined accountability and transparency in the sector.

NGOs bill upsets Ugandan civil society

World Bulletin / News Desk

 An NGO bill recently tabled in parliament has shaken Ugandan civil society, members of which are urging lawmakers to amend – not endorse – the text.

"Overall, this bill is a reversal of the spirit of complementarity and collaboration that the NGO board, together with the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other departments of government, have been championing with the NGOs," Margaret Sekaggya, executive director of the Human Rights Center, a local advocacy group, told Anadolu Agency.

"We thus call upon the government to withdraw this bill and significantly revise it, taking into consideration our concerns as key stakeholders of this law," she said.

The 2015 NGO Bill was brought before parliament last week by Minister for Internal Affairs General Aronda Nyakairima.

The government insists that the rapid growth of NGOs in the country has led to subversive work and activity, which in turn undermine accountability and transparency in the sector.

It argues, therefore, that the bill would strengthen the capacity of NGOs and their mutual partnership with the government, while making provisions for the corporate status of the National Board for NGOs and strengthen its capacity to register, regulate, coordinate and monitor NGO activities.

The government is proposing that NGOs only receive 10 percent of their funding from foreign donors, with the remaining 90 percent drawn from local sources.

But Sekaggya, who served as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders between 2008 and 2014, insists that the bill is merely a perpetuation of repressive laws crafted to curtail civil liberties.

"If you read it, it expressly seeks to grant the NGO Board sweeping powers to restrict, obstruct and criminalize the legitimate work of NGOs," she said.

These blanket powers are not explicitly spelt out in the text of the bill. However, the activist said, the ambiguous terms with which the bill is littered could be used to curtail the citizen's right to freedoms of association, expression and assembly.

As examples of such ambiguous terms, Sekaggya cited phrases like "public interest", "opinion of the board" and "at any reasonable time."

She said such loosely-defined terms could serve to limit freedom of association.

What's rattling civil society groups even more is the fact that the bill calls for the establishment of regional offices for the NGO board, district-level NGO-monitoring committees, and sub-county NGO monitoring committees.

Patrick Tumwine, an advocacy officer for the Human Rights Network, says NGOs are being treated like terrorists organizations.

"A whole security sector is supposed to be part of the board that monitors your operations, right from the sub-county, district and the resident district commissioners, all of whom are government security agents," he told Anadolu Agency.


James Baba, state minister for internal affairs, insists that activists are misinterpreting the bill, which, he said, is only meant to streamline the operations of NGOs.

"All we… want to know is, are you a local, national or international organization, what you are registered for, and if that is actually what you are doing," he told Anadolu Agency.

Baba said that 90 percent of the NGOs that operate in Uganda were doing an excellent job as development partners, especially in the areas of health, education and water.

"This bill is meant to strengthen their [NGOs'] operations," he added. "We also think that NGOs must work together with the local government and support the government's priorities and the government's agenda."

The minister asserted that the monitoring committees "are just meant to monitor what they [NGOs] are doing in the sub-counties and districts to ensure they are operating within their mandate."

He added: "These security agents do not have the powers to close any NGO. If you are licensed to carry out operations on water, health or education, do that instead of engaging in other work and you will be safe."

Baba went on to say that some NGOs were "promoting ideas that destroy our morals and our children."

He warned that there were some organizations that had also involved themselves in political matters with the aim of wreaking havoc in the country.

"We don't want NGOs that come and subvert our unity. Some want to cause division; they should leave national issues to us," the minister told Anadolu Agency.

But Medard Segona, an opposition legislator and shadow minister for constitutional affairs, disagrees.

"NGOs are a forum onto which the public converge, associate and express themselves," he told Anadolu Agency.

He says the bill is just a means by which the government is trying to deny the public any opportunity to participate in managing the country's affairs.

"You can't say because you deal in water you cannot comment on the environment and poor roads that led to the absence of boreholes," said Segona. "This is non-social."

Segona, a member of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, also criticized clauses in the bill related to NGO funding.

"You are basically denying people access to funding that would improve the lives of Ugandans politically and socially," he told Anadolu Agency.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Mayıs 2015, 12:44