By Goodluck Musinguzi
Some Members of Civil Society in Uganda are appealing to the Minister of Internal Affairs to appoint the governing board of Non-Governmental Organisations. Leading the crusade is Sarah Bireete, the Executive Director of Center for Constitutional Governance(CCG) a Constitutional Watchdog based in Kampala.
The National NGO board is mandated to register, regulate, monitor, coordinate and advise government on the NGO sector. Functions of the National NGO Board: (a) Conduct background checks and scrutinize the credentials and status of all international NGOs seeking to register and operate in Uganda.
Sarah Bireete in a statement said the NGO Act categorically provides for the manner in which the NGO Bureau should be constituted with a Board of Directors, an Adjudication Committee, and District NGO Monitoring Committees. Without these, the current formation is not only illegitimate but also their actions illegal.
“The arbitrary conduct of some elements within the NGO Bureau like Mr. Steven Okello who has continued to operate with a lot of high handedness in disregard of the law and due process. Some of these actions have included,the refusal to lift his illegal ban on NGOs in-spite of fulfilling all the requirements,slapping exorbitant fines on NGOs that have complied with all requirements”, said Sarah Bireete.
The Refusal to receive documents of certain NGOs seeking to satisfy the requirements. Freezing Accounts of the affected NGOs and requiring them to seek permission from the illegal NGO Bureau in order to make any transactions
We are deeply concerned about the increased episodes of attacks on the sector, state-sanctioned abuse of due process, citizen rights, and freedoms. The systematic attack has been mainly targeted at anyone that is seen to be working on electoral democracy, natural resources management, human rights and political accountability.
The trend suggests that not only are citizens and their organizations targeted, but rather funding partners and anyone else supporting civic space and citizen organizing. This is not only disturbing but an expose` of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Some of the most recent attacks include:
The ban of unregistered forms of citizen organizing such as loose coalitions like the National Election Watch in October 2020
The Deportation of staff of foreign missions (Embassies) and staff of international NGOs working on elections.
The Freeze of Accounts of several NGOs working on democracy, human rights and accountably
Targeted break-ins on NGO premises and homes of staff, without any report on investigations from the state
Arrest of Civil Society leaders, such as the Executive Director of AFIEGO, Mr. Dickens Kamugisha and other staff across the country in October 2021, the ED of Chapter 4 in December 2020 and over 20 CSO Election observers in January 2021
The attacks on the media and opposition political actors are also well documented
The attempted assassination of Civil Society Leaders and failure by the Police to investigate the incidents in-spite of the leaders reporting the incidents is very worrisome. For instance, on 16th and 20th August 2021, there was an attempted assassination of a CSO Leader, in Kampala, and in-spite of Police visiting the scenes three times, they have to-date refused to provide the CCTV footage or even any feedback to the victim.
The purported ban and halting of activities of over 60 organizations (54 in August 2021, and 6 in May 2021), preceded by the illegal arrest and incarceration of staff is the latest in this charade of attacks.
We wish to point out that these targeted attacks are part of a larger scheme by the regime to decimate all progressive democracy and accountability seeking forces. We also take note that:
We have also heard from different sources that the regime is determined to decimate the sector. We know that the current regime actions are far from compliance with the law but rather a political problem. From all our sources we are aware that the actions of the Bureau are being influenced by elements within the military through the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organizations (ISO).
We have also sadly learnt that elements within the NGO Bureau have been asking for bribes from NGOs in order to help them resolve their issues. This trend is perpetuation of corruption and must be challenged in the strongest terms.
It should be noted that these attacks and harassment have far reaching implications for livelihoods and the economy. The Freeze on Accounts of organizations does not affect the NGOs alone but also several other people that benefit from these organizations, and the constituencies that they service.
We wish to categorically state that under our constitution and laws made thereunder, “No one should be arrested in the exercise of their freedom of association, like has been in the case of AFIEGO staff and other NGO staff. Even in the NGO Act, the only punishment for operating without a permit is a monthly fine. Arresting NGO staff is thus illegal and high handed
We wish to acknowledge the difficult circumstances that our good men and women in the Uganda Police, operate such as poor remuneration, poor accommodation and delayed pay. In-spite of this, the Police has been captured by elements within the military who have subjected the force to undue pressure and forced them to undertake all sorts of arbitrary and illegal actions like arrest and harassment of NGO leaders. We thus call upon all Ugandans to join us in pushing back against this state capture.
We also need to categorically state that if the regime doesn’t stop its business of disrupting operations of NGOs and their staff, we shall mobilize the sector to close shop and start operating informally. This will not only deny the government taxes, but also jobs and services to the people.
As advocates for the removal of restrictions on civic and democratic space, WE REAFFIRM OUR COMMITMENT and RESOLVE TO STAND in solidarity with Ugandans that want to exercise their constitutional right to association, through all peaceful and legal forms, and will work with all interested Ugandans to continue to demand for a conducive environment for enjoyment of their civic rights.
-For God and My Country- Signed by Sarah Bireete, Executive Director CCG