UGANDA: NGO Bill Tabled, Minister Vows to Press On With Repressive Clauses

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Liberty Protests in Kampala (Courtesy photo)

Uganda’s Non-Governmental Organisations Bill, 2015 (NGO Bill) was tabled today afternoon before Parliament to pave way for the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs to present its report. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima was quick to caution the Members of Parliament that he will be challenging the Committee report which proposes several major progressive amendments.

In October 2010, the Cabinet approved the National NGO Policy raising a number of serious concerns. In an effort to amend or repeal the regressive NGO Registration Act Cap 113, consultations and benchmarking commenced in January 2011. This process gave birth to the current NGO Bill 2015 that was published in the Uganda Gazette on 10th April 2015.

On 13th May 2015, the Bill was tabled in Parliament and accordingly forwarded to the Committee for consideration. 

Notably, the Committee report proposes the following key amendments:

  1. Delete provisions that grant the NGO Board broad disciplinary powers which include blacklisting, exposing affected organisations to the public, and any other disciplinary actions the “Board may deem fit”;
  2. Amend composition of the Board of Directors of the NGO Board to include several Permanent Secretaries of key government ministries and guarantee membership of two representatives of NGOs;
  3. Align the NGO Bill with the NGO Policy by replacing provisions providing for the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) as the Chair of the District NGO Monitoring Committee (DNMC);
  4. Further amend the Bill to make the Senior Assistant Secretary, and not the RDC, the Chair of the Sub-County NGO Monitoring Committee (SNMC);
  5. Amend the Bill to make the District Community Development Officer the secretary of the DNMC and a Community Development Officer at the Sub-County level, the secretary of the SNMC;
  6. Amend the provision on funding of organisations to expressly insert a section clause allowing NGOs to source for unlimited funding “from any other sources” as opposed to limiting their funding to the fund established by the Bill;
  7. Delete provision allowing the NGO Board to refuse to register an NGO “in public interest” or “for any other reason” the Board may deem fit;
  8. Delete provision granting NGO Board powers to revoke a permit of an NGO in the “public interest”;
  9. Delete provision providing for abrupt inspections of NGO offices “at any reasonable time” and insert section clause requiring the Board to provide a prior 7-day inspection notice;
  10. Replace provision requiring registered NGOs to sign mandatory MOUs with local governments before commencing operations with a requirement to have NGOs simply furnish the local government with copies of operation permits;
  11. Delete provision granting NGO Board powers to refuse to register an NGO on grounds that its activities are prejudicial to the “dignity of the people of Uganda”;
  12. Delete provision requiring NGOs to be “non-partisan” in their activities ahead of 2016 general elections;
  13. Delete provision granting the NGO Board powers to dissolve NGOs by order of the Board without requiring a court order;
  14. Establish an Adjudication Committee to handle all appeals of matter arising out of the Act. Committee to be chaired by an Advocate of the High Court with a minimum of 10 years experience and have membership of a representative of the NGOs and the NGO Board; and
  15. Replace provision requiring all NGOs registered in Uganda to seek re-registration within six months after commencement of the Act with a requirement of NGOs submitting their permits and other registration documents for verification purposes.

However, the Committee report remains silent on other critical issues such as dual liability and provisions reserving criminal sanctions for adminsitrative violations.

Hon. Mathias Mpuuga reminded members of the key contributions of the NGO sector, “I would like to invite government to appreciate the contribution of NGOs to Uganda’s economy. At some point, one may think that government looks at NGOs as another political party, which is very wrong.”

“NGOs employ very many young people, it should be our role as Parliament to encourage and support NGOs” Hon. Gerard Karuhanga reminded fellow members of Parliament.

“The principal of regulation of NGOs is good, however, the spirit of this Bill is questionable” Hon. Latif Ssebagala observed. “Government is targeting some NGOs for reasons best known to them”

Hon. Ken Lukyamuzi questioned government’s commitment to democracy and respect of human rights. He noted, “A government cannot claim to be democratic if it cannot handle criticism form NGOs”

Hon. Kaps Fungaroo reminded members that “the type of NGOs that are targeted are those whose work is mainly governance; others seem to be ignored”

A Member of Parliament sought to have the NGO Bill outlaw organisations working with sexual minorities. “Some NGOs’ agenda is focused on issues of sexuality and homosexuality; this is contrary to our culture” Hon. Cecilia Ogwal.

Parliament adopted the motion for the second reading of the NGO Bill during which it is expected that the clause by clause provisions will be debated to pave way for the passing of the Bill.

Chapter Four Uganda appeals to Members of Parliament to seize this watershed moment and set a major standard in the region in the protection of civic space and the fundamental freedoms of people to peacefully associate and express themselves freely.

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