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NGOs Oppose Bureau Mainstreaming, Cite Sector Stability and International Ramifications :: Uganda Radionetwork

NGOs Oppose Bureau Mainstreaming, Cite Sector Stability and International Ramifications

"The NGO Bureau, by its nature, doesn't fall within the broader category of government entities that are characterized by the duplicity of roles, structures, and overlap of mandate with other government agencies, departments, and ministries nor, possess an autonomous budget vote,” the group said in a statement. consideration.
21 May 2024 08:27

Audio 4

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are expressing strong opposition to the proposed mainstreaming of the NGO Bureau, citing potential harm to a sector that has steadily grown and stabilized over the years. Their concerns come in response to the recent passage of the NGO Amendment Bill, 2024 by Parliament. 

A key provision of the bill entails returning the NGO Bureau to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where it will operate as a department headed by a secretary under the ministry’s permanent secretary.  The bill marks a departure from the bureau's previous status as a semi-autonomous body under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, established by the NGO Act, 2016, with a mandate to regulate, coordinate, inspect, and oversee all NGO activities in the country. 

Now, the NGOs led by the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, they outlined several reasons why mainstreaming the bureau would be detrimental thus petitioning the president to refrain from assenting to the bill and instead return it to parliament for further consideration. 

"The NGO Bureau, by its nature, doesn't fall within the broader category of government entities that are characterized by the duplicity of roles, structures, and overlap of mandate with other government agencies, departments, and ministries nor, possess an autonomous budget vote,” the group said in a statement. 

The statement given to the press on Monday morning further notes that the envisaged mainstreaming of the NGO Bureau activities shall ultimately require the establishment of another structure within the Ministry for this department to fulfill its mandate. which, essentially, would be leading the government to the very route of attempting to cure.

“A mere department, devoid of an increased number of personnel could face capacity gaps in liaising and offering guidance to the over 80 envisaged District NGO Monitoring Committees that are by law meant to be established in every district. This would demand more staff and hence an increased wage bill as a result. The current Bureau had built progressively, the necessary acumen to manage these functions effectively, utilizing the available resources allocated to it,” the statement added.  

Robert Kirenga, the Executive Director National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, emphasized the importance of informing the president about the potential implications before the bill is ratified. He highlighted that maintaining a robust semi-autonomous regulatory authority over the Civil Society Organization sector aligns with Uganda's regional and international commitments regarding countering terrorism financing and anti-money laundering frameworks.

“In February 2024, Uganda was removed from the Financial Action Taskforce (FATF) gray list. One of the reasons for removal was Uganda’s high-level promise that it will increase risk-based monitoring of NGOs and CBOs...especially FATF recommendation 8, and Immediate Outcome 10,” said Kirenga. 

The said recommendation 8 requires countries to review the adequacy of their laws and regulations that relate to non-profit organizations identified as being at risk of terrorist financing abuse. Kirenga added that “the mainstreaming of the Bureau...undermines the Country’s capacity to meet these regulations and this may result in there-listing of Uganda on the gray list since the country will not be meeting its promises.” 

Sarah Birete, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Governance, highlighted a significant concern regarding the parliamentary process surrounding the bill. She pointed out that the responsible committee failed to invite them as stakeholders, as mandated by law, casting doubt on the transparency of the bill's handling.

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Margaret Sekaggya, the NGO ForumBoard Chairperson, proposed an alternative approach, suggesting that rather than mainstreaming the bureau, the government should focus on strengthening it to effectively fulfill its role in overseeing the numerous NGOs and community-based organizations in the country.

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While NGOs currently advocate for preserving the bureau, their relationship with it has been characterized by fluctuating dynamics over the years. They have experienced various challenges and disagreements on several issues, with NGOs often criticizing the bureau's actions and decisions. 

Peter Majera, emphasized that the conflict between the bureau and NGOs was constructive, and aimed at prompting improvements in the bureau's operations. However, he expressed concern that with the proposed mainstreaming, even the modest progress achieved could be undone.

He further warned of the potential resurgence of bureaucracy, recalling the efforts invested in establishing the bureau back in 2016. Majera feared that individuals who had acquired expertise and capacity in the sector might be marginalized in the process, leading to setbacks despite the sector's advancements over the years.

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Most of the sentiments expressed by NGO officials were highlighted in a minority report, which garnered signatures from only three members of Parliament when the Committee on defense and internal affairs discussed the matter. The minority report highlighted that the third National Development Plan designates Civil Society as the third sector in the country, emphasizing the crucial role of NGOs in realizing Vision 2040. 

As the sole regulator of NGOs, it stressed the need for the bureau to be fully empowered to make prompt decisions and interventions in the affairs of NGOs nationwide. “Mainstreaming it into a department in the Ministry will be counter-productive and contrary to the original position of government streamlining the NGO sector, whose activities are global and dynamic. This could result in far-reaching political, financial, social, security, and economic consequences on the well-being of Ugandans,” the report reads in part.  

Yona Wajala, Executive Director, of Defenders Protection Initiative, added that there appears to be a systemic issue with the broader legislative landscape, noting that Parliament seems to be prioritizing bills on mergers for crucial entities without thorough consideration. This approach, he lamented, has resulted in the preservation of entities known for duplicating roles and adding unnecessary burdens on taxpayers.

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Wajala’s concern is not new within the public sphere, with various entities such as the Uganda National Meteorological Authority echoing similar sentiments. The argument has been that Parliament has not fully grasped the implications of mainstreaming these entities, particularly considering the regional and international obligations they fulfill through their existence.

Furthermore, reports have surfaced implicating members of Parliament exploiting the process for personal gain. Allegations suggest that deals are struck with entities, whereby those who pay receive favorable treatment, while those who do not are subjected to mainstreaming or merging without due consideration of stakeholders' concerns raised during the committee stage.

Uganda boasts a substantial presence of NGOs and CBOs, numbering at least 5,900, collectively drawing in a substantial amount of funding, estimated at around 4.5 trillion Ugandan shillings through donations and related sources. 

However, over the years, the government has raised concerns regarding certain NGOs, accusing them of promoting foreign interests and practices. Conversely, NGOs have criticized the government for imposing restrictions on their operations through various means.