Uganda National NGO Forum (UNNGOF) is an independent and inclusive national platform for NGOs in Uganda. It primary constituency and owners are NGOs in their diversity and configurations. The National NGO Forum platform is however open to other interest groups within a broadly defined civil society. The Uganda National NGO Forum’s operational scope is at national level, with a focus on issues and processes that concern NGOs across the board. We recognise the independent existence of national thematic NGO networks and district networks and fora as other important NGO coordinating mechanism with complementary comparative advantages.
The objectives of the forum are; to act as a Forum drawing together NGOs registered and operating in Uganda and other groups working in Uganda, to discuss and adopt strategies and to act collectively on matters of mutual concern to NGOs, to maintain dialogue with the government and other national and international NGOs and bodies on behalf of all members and other NGOs operating in Uganda, that subscribe to UNNGOF’s mission, to undertake advocacy and lobbying of government and other bilateral and multilateral bodies on issues of common concern and promote informed dialogue, networking and information exchange among the member NGOs, other NGOs and the wide civil society on matters of concern.
The Ugandan NGO Forum is member of AGNA. Affinity groups are groupings of CIVICUS members that exist to take forward CIVICUS’ mission and values. The Affinity Group of National Associations (AGNA) brings together national associations from around the world. National associations are those organisations, which provide and give a collective voice to civil society in their countries, serve as interlocutors between civil society and other sectors and struggle for the creation of an enabling environment for civil society at the national level.
State/civil society relations:
How does the state view and relate to civil society in your country?
In Uganda there is always relative comfort (especially political) from the government with what CSOs are doing; government is always conscious of the larger political pressures on government by both internal and external actors and processes, which NGOs tend to drive on as their advocacy and engagement agendas. The government in Uganda has misgivings on NGOs due to their level of courage and conviction, especially their leaders, who keep strong international relations. NGOs working on advocacy are seen with greater suspicion that those that focusing on service delivery. The perception of the government is that the interface between NGOs and the donor community is for selfish interests of the donors.
Have there been any significant changes in relations between civil society and the government in your country in the last year?
There was significant improvement in the relations between NGOs and the government on the account that there was an attempt to reform the laws and regulations. There was steady progress in launching the NGO policy and joint effort was initiated to maintain closer relations through sharing information and dialogues especially between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the NGO leadership. None the less, occasional attacks to NGOs went on from government officials whenever there was an act that accused the government of corruption.
What conditions do you feel need to be in place to allow for a good relationship between the state and civil society at a national level?
The conditions we propose
NGOs in Uganda propose that the purpose of the NGO law and regulations should be to facilitate their work instead of controlling the sector; the law must reflect a complete understanding of NGOs and their various roles (including governance, politics and human rights) and go beyond the current state-centric service delivery and humanitarian notion.
On the other hand the NGO registration Board should be made autonomous and its mandate expanded beyond registration to promoting the NGO sector – a new name such as ‘The NGO Registration and Promotion Board’ or simply ‘NGO Promotions Board’ would be a good way to re-launch its new identity. The oversight of the NGO sector should be taken to a Ministry with a more development oriented mandate than that of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, National Planning Authority and the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development are options suggested in the past.
The development partners, who support the NGOs in Uganda, should seek audience with key power players in the ongoing review process to make a case for a more enabling NGO Law. These include; the Prime Minister as a person, the new Minister of Internal Affairs, the 1st Parliamentary Council in the Ministry of Justice which will be mandated to prepare a draft bill, the NGO Registration Board which is expected to lead on preparing a Cabinet Paper on the NGO Legal Reform Agenda.
The legal and regulatory environment:
Are there any particular challenges with the legal and regulatory environment for civil society? (e.g. are the laws outdated / inappropriate / inadequate / over complex / partial / not properly applied / adequate)?
Recent analyses suggest a move towards a ‘narrowing space for NGOs operations’ seen from the legal, regulatory and policy instruments preferred by the state. These instruments include the NGO Act, 2006 (and the attendant NGO Regulations, 2009) as well as some sections of the NGO Policy.
Main Concerns with the current NGO Law in Uganda
For all intents and purposes the NGO Act CAP 113 (as amended in 2006) falls far short from a progressive law in a country aspiring to deepen democracy and claiming to respect constitutional law and its obligations under various international instruments and covenants. The Uganda NGO law deviates from other generally acceptable principles and practices for laws affecting civil society as showed below:
1. The entire NGO Act is based on a very narrow definition and understanding of NGOs, what they do and cannot do.
Article 1 (e) defines an NGO as ‘an organization established to provide voluntary services, including religious, educational, literary, scientific, social or charitable services, to the community or any part of it’. It is not by accident that the NGO Act is silent on the broader governance, policy and human rights, and therefore political dimensions of NGOs work. For as long as such a narrow understanding remains, the defining feature of NGOs operating parameters, the state can, as and when it deems necessary invoke the law to curtail the work of NGOs in the areas of democracy, governance and human rights.
2. The NGO Act is premised on an overbearing intent by the state to control the activities of NGOs and therefore provides for unfettered administrative discretion to the NGO Board and Minister of Internal Affairs to do so.
Article (2) states that ‘… upon registration, the Board shall issue a certificate of registration to the organization, subject to such conditions or directions generally as it may think fit to insert in the certificate and particularly relating to: a) the operation of the organization; b) where the organization may carry out its activities; and c) staffing of the organisation.
3. The NGO Act, 2006 sets a wrong precedent and prior requirement for NGO formation and registration.
Article 2 (4) states that ‘an organization shall not be registered under this Act if the objectives of the NGO as specified in its constitution are in contravention of the law. It effectively prescribes what is permissible or not for an NGO on the basis of a contentious law in the first place.
4. The NGO Act, 2006 under the dual liability provision unduly implicates NGO staff over and above what is acceptable in international law and even standard company law in Uganda.
Article 2 (6) states that; ‘where an organization commits an offence under sub section (5), any director or officer of the organization whose act or omission gave rise to the offence also commits an offence and is liable on conviction’.
5. The NGO Act, 2006 does not recognize the important role, knowledge and expertise NGOs can make to their governance and so does not provide for NGO representation on the NGO Board.
As it is, the NGO Board is undemocratically constituted, lacks deeper understanding of NGOs work and is unlikely to serve the interests of the NGO sector. Further, the NGO Board is poorly funded and thus unable to carry out its service mandate to the NGO sector.
6. The NGO Act, 2006 does not make any provisions for recourse to justice if an NGO feels aggrieved. Instead it vests close to arbitrary power in the office of the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Article 9 states that; ‘a person aggrieved by the decision of the board … may appeal to the Minister within three months of the date of notification’. Beyond the Minister of Internal Affairs there is no other provision for appeal within the NGO Act, 2006.
7. Excessive red tape in the process of registering an NGO and inherently constraining provisions at registration.
Regulation 5 (1) states that ‘an application for registration … shall be accompanied by: a specification of the area of intended operation of the organization; field of operation e.g. health, education etc; a chart showing the structure of the organization; a work plan and budget for the first year of operation of the organization; in the case of a local organization, a written recommendation to the board by two sureties, a written recommendation by the chairperson of the executive committee of the sub county council and the RDC, among others’.
8. The Regulations almost criminalize NGOs contact with the rural population.
Regulation 13 states that ‘an organization shall, in carrying out its operations … not make any direct contact with the people in their area of operation in Uganda unless it has given seven days’ notice in writing of its intention to do so to the local councils and RDCs of the area’. This provision in the law is one of the most arbitrary and its implementation will tantamount to creating a ‘police’ state.
9. The Regulations confer unfettered administrative powers to the NGO Board to dissolve and or deregister an NGO.
Regulation 17 (3) states that ‘an organization may be dissolved by order of the Board if the Board has reason to believe that the registered organization has not commenced its activities … or without justifiable cause for any reason has ceased to exist after … or it has violated the terms and conditions attached to its permit or operated in contravention of the provisions of the Act; or for any other reason the Board considers necessary in the public interest’.
10. The NGO Regulations, while acknowledging the QuAM contain provisions which collectively read, tantamount to the state attempting to hijack the QuAM agenda.
Regulation 19 (1) states that, two or more organizations may form a self-regulating body, (2) adds that ‘a self-regulatory body shall be registered with the Board and an application for registration for such a body shall be accompanied by: (a) the resolution of each of the organizations forming the body stating willingness to be part of the self-regulating body; (b) the code of conduct of the self-regulatory body; (c) any other information that the Board may reasonably require …’
What recent trends do you feel have enabled or restricted the efficiency of civil society?
A. Enabling trends
The National NGO Policy highly cherished by NGOs to the most positive extent was officially launched in July 2012 and Government encouraged NGOs to use the Policy as the framework for reference while they operate. The Government in 2012 commenced the review the NGO Act and regulations to be aligned with the NGO Policy and the Ministry of Internal Affairs promised to open the doors for dialogue with NGOs and always work together for the good of the people of Uganda and this was a positive sign. In 2012, the Government reiterated the importance of NGOs in national development and this was acknowledged at all levels, which in one way or another led to the number of NGOs growing and more NGOs being registered at the NGO Board. This is an indication that the operating environment was relatively conducive as evidenced by the sustainability index analysis done in 2012 January, that suggested that the NGO sector was evolving and therefore there was a positive trend for the future.
The growing number of civic engagements in political and social affairs of Uganda was also an indication of a positive environment for civil society in the country and therefore a stipulation for mass participation of people in national issues. The growth of public spaces for speech, and discussions in open air at ground zero (UBC) and the Barazas (OPM) were signs of civic rights of expression where NGOs and other CSOs played a very significant role in empowering the people of Uganda.
B. Dis-enabling trends
In 2012, the Government threatened some NGOs with closure; some cases included OXFAM GB and Uganda Land Alliance, which were both accused of producing a research report on land grabbing by foreign companies with the support of the government. Advocates coalition for development and environment (ACODE) and many others were threatened with possible investigation of their funding sources.
NGOs were also accused of promoting gay and lesbian behaviors; others were accused of employing expatriates and paying them big salaries while paying peanuts to Ugandan staff. Most NGOs were accused of funding subversive activities to undermine the Ugandan state, involving themselves in politics and promoting partisan views to the extent of attacking the political systems of the National Resistance Movement, promoting interest of foreigners and using their financial proximity with donors to undermine the security of the country.
There was also an accusation coming from government sources that implied that NGOs do not serve the interests of the people they purport to serve but they are busy enriching their staff and directors to the malaise of the poor and disadvantaged (riding on the back of the poor). It also said that they do not positively portray the achievements registered by the government and that they speak as if they were political parties, siting at some events and mass actions of demonstration against national issues besides being prohibited.
Funding environment for CSOs:
What is the reality of funding in your country? (Access to funding/ patterns of donor support/ restrictions on funding etc.)
The NGO sector in Uganda is funded primarily by international NGOs and bi-lateral donors. Grant income is the life and blood of many Ugandan NGOs, representing over 86% of its total revenues (Barr, et al). However, there are large differences in size and funding across NGOs, with few NGOs attracting most of the funding.
Funding sources of an average NGO differs considerably from those of the sector as a whole. While a few NGOs found at national and district levels are able to diversify their funding sources in the form of business income, membership fees or subscriptions, and have more than three donors at any time being therefore generally considered financially stable (Angey, S and Nilsson, 2004), the majority of NGOs are dependent on one or two donors. Unequally distributed as it is, funding from donors is almost always accompanied by conditions for proper financial management systems. It logically follows that NGOs that receive large funding from donors are more likely to have sound financial management systems and strict accountability obligations for finances, at least to donors. NGOs with little or no funding on the other hand are less likely to have sound financial systems.
Where is money going and for what purposes?
Funding for NGOs goes primarily to the areas that are specified in their strategic plans , work plans and operating activities like salaries, emoluments and overhead costs such as payment of rentals, utilities like water electricity, communication, transport and sewerage services.