Uganda set to Pass Harsh NGO Bill

A new NGO bill that was first presented to the Parliament of Uganda in April 2015 is sparking controversy, as it would curtail the ability of NGOs to carry out their work in Uganda.

The bill will be debated in parliament before it is signed on by the president to become a law, if passed, the bill will place stringent rules on NGOs operating in the country and will impact the work of both national and international rights organizations.

To start with, all organizations will be required to register again within a period of six months. Additionally, the authorities will have more powers to control civil society organizations that are critical to them and can silence them as most of the resources given to NGOs will have to pass through long registration procedures and this will restrict activity implementation. The proposed Bill entails a new registration board to register NGOs and CBOs with regional, district and sub-county NGO monitoring committees, established to overlook their operations in the regions as well as recommend organizations for registration and in issuance and renewal of permits.

Therefore the organizations would have to declare their sources of income and obtain further permits from local authorities in order to carry out their operations. Violations of the Bill would be punished with hefty fines, suspension of permits, exposure to the public, blacklisting and prosecution and criminal penalties of between four and eight years in prison for the directors and staff.

As stated in the bill, NGOs should “not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the security and laws of Uganda”, or if “in the opinion of the board it is in the public interest to do so” in such cases, permits would be revoked. Such vague and loose phrasing in the Bill was a great issue of concern to activists and NGOs. Uganda is following a regional trend , most importantly the 2009 Ethiopia Charities and Societies Law and this does not come as a surprise when thinking about the up-coming elections as NGOs and rights groups have been monitoring and criticizing the electoral processes in previous years.

Activists say that there have always been attempts to regulate and restrict operations of NGOs especially regarding the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. The bill would replace the Non-Governmental Organizations Act Cap. 113., which had previously regulated the operations of NGOs.