There is mistrust between NGOs, govt: Study

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There is mistrust between NGOs, govt: Study
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A recent study has revealed the persistent lack of trust between Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and regulators in Uganda, primarily stemming from a lack of clear coordination and communication.

The findings were unveiled during the 'Talk to your regulator' symposium, an event that brought together civil society leaders and officials from various regulatory bodies including the National NGO Bureau, the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Uganda Registration Services Bureau, and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).

The study, titled "Cultivating Trust to Improve the Governance of the NGO Sector in Uganda," highlighted the existence of deep mistrust between both the regulators and the NGO players, with skepticism surrounding each other's activities being a significant factor.

Dr. James Nkuubi, the Executive Director at the Network for Public Interest Litigation, presented the report and emphasised the study's objective to examine the extent of trust between NGOs and regulators.

According to Nkuubi, the study identified certain positive developments that could be considered as best practices, bringing regulators and the regulated organizations closer.

However, he also raised concerns regarding several issues, including the lack of feedback from FIA and challenges related to district monitoring of NGO committees.

"Our findings indicate that the district non-governmental monitoring committees, which are present in every district, are among the least trusted regulatory units. They represent the smallest unit of compliance," Nkuubi explained.

The study's recommendations emphasize the importance of continuous outreach, consistent liaison with the NGO sector, and dispelling the notion that NGOs exist solely to counter the government's position rather than complement it.

Nkuubi expressed the desire to build trust.

"We aim to nurture the seeds of trust that have been planted. We want to cultivate and water them so they can sprout, enabling us to establish trust,"he stated.

Yona Wanjala, the Executive Director of Defenders Protection Initiative, emphasized the need for ongoing engagement between NGOs and regulators.

He proposed the establishment of an independent platform for NGOs to communicate with regulators regarding key aspects of the regulatory landscape in the country.

This platform would address knowledge gaps, compliance obligations, and foster trust and transparency.

Wanjala further acknowledged the existence of a trust deficit and the need to identify the factors contributing to the breakdown of trust.

"We must explore what is eroding trust and determine the necessary elements to rebuild and foster trust. This engagement is built on that foundation,"he stated.

Regulators have called for transparency from NGOs.

Stephen Okello, the Executive Director of the National NGO Bureau, emphasised the importance of having a compliance officer within Civil Society organizations to monitor compliance and avoid penalties for noncompliance.

Regarding allegations of targeting Muslim-led organizations, Lazarus Mukasa, Deputy Executive Director of the FIA, clarified that no NGOs had been sanctioned.

He attributed potential misconceptions to the FIA's risk-based monitoring approach, stating that the 2023 NGO TF Assessment revealed increased vulnerability to terrorist financing abuse among NGOs operating madrasas and in insecure areas.

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