KAMPALA - Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of the Uganda Human Rights Initiative, has described the Non-Government Organization Regulations 2017 as burdensome, restrictive, unreasonable and not up to international standards.
One of the regulations requires that organizations submit to the National Bureau of NGOs their source of funding, funds received and estimates of income and expenditure at least once every year.
It also requires organizations operating in districts to declare their annual budgets and work plan to the district’s technical planning committee every calendar year. It is also mandatory for Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to submit their annual returns, including a financial report, an annual report and minutes of the general assembly or governing board to the sub county NGO monitoring committee once every year, which would be forwarded to the district NGO monitoring committee.
Ssewanyana however criticized the regulation saying that submitting audited accounts was a good practice and organizations have been complying with it but it should not be done required every year.
He said that instead of one year, it should be made every five years when the organizations renew their contracts.
He said that organizations operating within the European Union do submit their returns after four years while the African Commission requires them to do so after two years.
“It makes more sense if at the time of renewal of registration after five years, the organization submits its returns other than requiring it every year,” he said.
Ssewanyana said that the regulation was burdensome and unreasonable and asked government to borrow a leaf from the International practices that go beyond one year for organizations to submit their returns or audited accounts.
He said the demand for them to submit returns every year might cause issues since the bureau may not have the capacity to review all submissions of the over 15,000 organizations operating in the country.
The regulations also require that before starting operations, the organizations are required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the local governments. It shall include conditions such as description of the co-operative activities and responsibilities of each party, an intellectual property rights provision and a privacy and confidentiality provision.
But Ssewanyana said that signing of an MOU was not necessary since NGOs sign one with the bureau at registration, where they are issued with a certificate or permit which approves of their operations.
“Why again does government require organizations to sign another contract with each local government where they operate,” he said.
Ssewanyana said the regulation was uncalled for and asked government to allow the organizations to operate freely in all parts of the country without any restrictions.
“We have over 100 districts, it is to demand for too much if I’m required to sign an MOU with each of them, it is restrictive and inconsistent with International Standards ” he explained, adding that it should apply to only the Community Based Organizations which operate at districts.
Ssewanyana however supports the regulation which talks about temporally closure, which requires that an organization writes to the bureau for approval of closure but said the period for doing so should be reviewed. The regulation states that an organization applies for approval of closure for a period not exceeding five years.
“It is okay to let organizations write informing the bureau of their intentions to close because some International organizations tend to close unceremoniously or some engage in misconduct and just walk away”.
“But the period of five years should be reviewed and lower it to two years, to ensure there is no breach of the conditions set but five years is too long,” Ssewanyana explained.
Ssewanyana said he has no problem with the regulation, which requires an organization to renew its permit six months before the expiry of the old one, which attracts a five of sh2million per month.
“I think that is fair and organizations should be able to bet the deadline so long as the bureau is capable of handling all the applications in time,” he said.
Crispin Kaheru, the Coordinator of the Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda said that some of the regulations were an attempt by government to control NGO operations and questioned the spirit under which they were crafted.
“Some of the regulations could have intended to create enough room to trap NGOs on different fronts including non-compliance,” he explained.
He said the regulations were put in place under the spirit of fault-finding, and put much burden on the NGOs including submission of their source of funding, funds received and estimates of income and expenditure at least once a year.
“The demand for estimates of income and expenditure looks at NGOs as business entities. It is the business entities that submit returns to Uganda Revenue Authority but organizations are not profit oriented,” he said, adding that the spirit could be interpreted as fault-finding in order to find reasons to de-register them.
On signing of MOUs with districts, Kaheru said it was not practical for an organization running seminars within a region for example, to sign an MOU with all districts in the area and do the same for the entire country.
He said some NGOs activities were emergency responses which would but a lot of burden on them to sign MOUs with all districts.
On writing to the bureau for approval of closure for a period not exceeding five years, Kaheru said that it would restrict entry of some organizations that would come to deliver specific but short term projects for the country.