In a bid to end the frequent squabbles and clampdown by government, several Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) across the country have launched a campaign in which they will conduct self-reflection and adopt their own regulations.
Through the Be Legit campaign the Uganda National NGO Forum(UNNGOF) will put emphasis on the different legal requirements and documents, assessing evidence of the NGOs meeting the legal obligations.
“Our relationship with government doesn’t have to be confrontational. We don’t have to fight all the time and one the things we can do to avoid this is self-regulate and be compliant. We don’t want to have situations like last year (when 54 NGOs were closed) but need to put our fights down,” said Sarah Pacutho, the team leader in charge of civil society strengthening at the UNNGOF.
“We ask that you(NGOs) be legitimate and it is the least you can do as stakeholders. Do self-regulation and compliant. There is no other way to prove you are legitimate apart from being compliant.
Pacutho explained that most of the times, tensions between NGOs and government have stemmed from lack of filing returns in time but noted with the campaign, they will ensure compliance to the regulatory framework by NGOs but also identify compliance training needs to inform capacity building.
“This is not a fault-finding exercise but rather one that seeks to foster learning self-regulation, compliance and learning. Some of the documents to be reviewed during the campaign will include Certificate of Incorporation (URSB), Certificate of Registration (NGO Bureau, URA, NSSF, and Financial Intelligence Authority); permit from NGO Bureau; Articles of Association/Constitution and proof of filing returns to URSB, NGO Bureau, district, NSSF, Financial Intelligence Authority and URA among others,” she noted.
According to the team leader in charge of civil society strengthening at the UNNGOF, in all they will be doing throughout the campaign, emphasis will be put on self-regulation for NGOs to ensure smooth running of their activities for the benefit of the Ugandan population.
“We want to find compliance gaps and see ways of addressing them. Enough is enough of the fighting(with government). Let us put our guns down and stop lamentations of being under attack. Compliance will help solve all these issues,”Pacutho noted.
The Executive Director of the NGO Bureau, Stephen Okello welcomed the move for NGOs to adopt self-regulation and compliance mechanisms that he said will ensure a smooth relationship with government.
“This is greatly going to help NGOs operate smoothly. As NGO Bureau, our main concern is promoting good governance, transparency and accountability within NGO sector and once we have a very health NGO sector everything will move smoothly,”Okello said.
He however dismissed claims that the NGO Bureau and the Ministry of Internal Affairs are deliberately targeting NGOs by shrinking their space.
“We appreciate your role by filling in the gap that you have identified by coming in to complement government efforts. However, there are legal obligations you must comply with and it is very important that as you carry out your work, you ensure those obligations are followed, otherwise you are going to get problems,”Okello said.
“Don’t wait for government to warn or put sanctions on you. It is important that you are fully compliant in everything you do.”
Dr.Moses Isooba, the Executive Director for UNNGOF emphasized the need for self-compliance by NGOs to ensure they remain in business.
“It is important to be legitimate by adhering to the administrative and legislative requirement of the state. It is non-negotiable even when you don’t like government. It is important that even before waiting for government, you comply,”Dr.Musooba said.
According to UNNGOF as part of the campaign, their staff will carry out on site visits with face-to-face interaction between the visiting team that will also include a lawyer conversant with the regulatory framework and the host NGO staff that will include the head of the organization, finance team or compliance officer to hold a conversation to facilitate a deeper understanding and health check on the NGO’s status in regards complying to government regulations and administrative procedures
The development comes on the backdrop of the revoking of licences for more than 50 NGOs by government and the freezing of accounts of several others forcing them to completely close shop last year.
The NGO Bureau which under the Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement the shutdown was ordered after failure by the affected NGOs to submit annual returns but also operating on expired permits.
Several NGOs and activists have over the years accused government of targeting mostly those involved in civic education, human rights and accountability.
Government has since denied the accusations.