JOBS HUMAN RIGHTS
Hundreds of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are struggling to operate after the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) suspended funding in some cases and cut budgets in others.
Organisations involved in governance and human rights are the hardest hit.
According to the NGO forum website statistics, CSOs and NGOs are responsible for a combined 500,000 jobs in the country, ahead of government that employs slightly over 300,000. The development comes against a backdrop of a forensic audit last year that resulted in support to four CSOs in the country being terminated.
The audit was ordered by donors, following an outcry of corruption among CSOs and NGOs in the country. Later, in a statement, the Norwegian Embassy, one of the seven financiers to DGF, revealed that disciplinary action had also been taken against some DGF staff members after investigations linked them to misconduct.
By press time, an email by Saturday Vision for a comment on the matter had not yet been responded to by DGF. However, Saturday Vision has learnt that before last year's development, changes were already happening behind the scenes, starting as far back as 2017, when DGF reportedly changed it's method of funding CSOs in Uganda.
"DGF could offer bridge grants to grantees (CSOs/ NGOs) so that they could finalise activities from the concluding funding cycle and the Fund later issued a call for the next funding cycle. "But a number of it's partners, especially at the sub-national level, were not considered for renewed funding," a CSO Sustainability Index for the sub-Saharan-Africa published recently, read.
A CSO in Ntinda, a Kampala suburb that the reporter visited, said they had suspended all upcountry activities after they failed to get money. "The vehicles you see are not junk; they are all in good working condition and are supposed to be in Karamoja, but have been grounded for months," the official (names withheld), said.
"As we speak, we have not paid salaries since November last year and I am not even sure if we shall be able to get money this month," said the official, who revealed the organisation employs 500 people on a permanent basis. Henry Nickson Ogwal, the head of programmes at ActionAid, told said cutting jobs is now a real possibility under the current circumstances.
"If the money does not come in time - or does not come at all — you end up failing to meet your statutory obligations," Ogwal said. He said DGF has increased scrutiny on applications they are receiving and it was now harder, especially for small CSOs, to get funding. "Out of over 1,000 CSOs that applied for funding in the first round, only 100 were successful and have running contracts," he said.
However, according to data on DGF's website, only 45 CSOs had running contracts "That is double jeopardy for many of us (CSOs)," he said. "The Government has made us appear like we are antigovernment in our operations. They say we are funding the Opposition. We cannot operate freely nowadays," he said Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said the development would reduce oversight and feared that government excesses are likely to go unchallenged.
"That is not good in the lead up to the election season when we need to create awareness about the rule of law and civic education. When groups like ours do not have support, it is the common person who suffers," he said.
"My advice as we gear up to the 2021 elections should be that human rights and rule of law should take centre stage. There has never been more need to hold the state to account, create room for civic education and ensure that the environment is conducive for the ordinary person who wishes to vote peacefully (in the 2021 general election)," Ssewanyana said.
Richard Ssewakiryanga, the executive directive of NGOs Forum, an umbrella of NGO and CSOs in the country, confirmed the cuts. "There are alot of tensions in organisations," he said, adding that many have been surviving through short term grants, which have run out.
"We must find different ways of working as CSOs. We are thinking about many things, like starting social enterprises, to find alternative sources of funds. You can than use that money to help run the operations of the organisation," he said. Explaining the state of affairs, Ssewakiryanga said the financial situation of many organisations in the country was getting out of hand because many donors are increasingly finding alternative activities to fund.
"Some are finding humanitarian activities, like supporting refugees more attractive because they want to stop the escalating crisis, which would directly affect there own countries," he said.
"There are many new governments (in the West) that are having preference about how there money should be spent. Many of them are preoccupied with domestic politics. For example, the UK recently left the European Union. There money is now out of the pool. And DGF has to manage that," he said. Julius Mishambi Kapwepwe, the head of programmes at Uganda Debt Network, said the funding challenge could kill the civil society sector in Uganda.
"I think they (DGF) should be more strategic in there processing interventions otherwise civil society as we know it is going to die out," he said. He also said the decision by donors to put funds in one basket at DGF rather than each of the donor embassy, funding individual organisations (as was the case before 2011) had reduced the amount of funds available to CSOs.
"If you did not qualify at window A at the Ireland embassy there would be still an opportunity at B at the Swedish embassy because each embassy had it's own format which helped to diversify sources of funding," he said.
In the last decade alone, the National NGO Bureau has recorded a 50% jump in numbers from approximately 6,000 registered organisations in 2000 to more than 13,000 by the end of 2017, according to a recent report.