December 7, 2021

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Activists to sue NGO Bureau boss over bribes, CMI & ISO links

Angella Asiimwe, the founder of Voice Consults (L) and Sarah Bireete of CCG addressing press

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Civil Society Organisations have announced a plan to drag the NGO Bureau to courts of law for what they termed as arbitrary conduct of some elements.

The NGO Act categorically provides for the manner in which the NGO Bureau should be constituted with a Board of Directors, an Adjudication Committee, and District NGO Monitoring Committees.

Without these, the current formation is not only illegitimate but also their actions illegal, said Sarah Birete, the executive director of Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) while speaking at a joint press conference by CSO leaders at in Minister’s Village, Ntinda.

“We have also sadly learnt that elements within the NGO Bureau have been asking for bribes from NGOs in order to help them resolve their issues. This trend is perpetuation of corruption and must be challenged in the strongest terms,” she noted.

This follows the closure of 54 NGOs by the NGO Bureau back in August this year “for not submitting annual returns and non-compliance with the NGO Act of 2016”.

But according to Bireete, these attacks and harassment have far reaching implications for livelihoods and the economy.

She said the Freeze on Accounts of organizations does not affect the NGOs alone but also several other people that benefit from these organizations, and the constituencies that they service. 

Speaking at the same press conference, human rights lawyer Eron Kiiza, said the arbitrary conduct of some elements within the NGO Bureau like Mr. Steven Okello who has continued to operate with a lot of high handedness in disregard of the law and due process. 

Godber Tumushabe, Sarah Bireete and Eron Kiiza addressing press in Ntinda

He cited the refusal to lift his illegal ban on NGOs in-spite of fulfilling all the requirements, slapping exorbitant fines on NGOs that have complied with all requirements, refusal to receive documents of certain NGOs seeking to satisfy the requirements and Freezing Accounts of the affected NGOs and requiring them to seek permission from the illegal NGO Bureau in order to make any transactions.

“We were ready to take legal action against Okello for the crimes he may have committed. All the activities he is currently undertaking are illegal.”

“We have also heard from different sources that the regime is determined to decimate the sector. We know that the current regime actions are far from compliance with the law but rather a political problem.” 

He said they are aware that the actions of the Bureau are being influenced by elements within the military through the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organizations (ISO). 

“We wish to categorically state that under our constitution and laws made thereunder, “No one should be arrested in the exercise of their freedom of association, like has been in the case of AFIEGO staff and other NGO staff. Even in the NGO Act, the only punishment for operating without a permit is a monthly fine. Arresting NGO staff is thus illegal and high handed.”

CSOs, however, acknowledged the difficult circumstances that the good men and women in the Uganda Police, operate such as poor remuneration, poor accommodation and delayed pay.

In-spite of this, the Police has been captured by elements within the military who have subjected the force to undue pressure and forced them to undertake all sorts of arbitrary and illegal actions like arrest and harassment of NGO leaders.

“We thus call upon all Ugandans to join us in pushing back against this state capture. We also need to categorically state that if the regime doesn’t stop its business of disrupting operations of NGOs and their staff, we shall mobilize the sector to close shop and start operating informally. This will not only deny the government taxes, but also jobs and services to the people,” reads the joint statement.

It added: “As advocates for the removal of restrictions on civic and democratic space, WE REAFFIRM OUR COMMITMENT and RESOLVE TO STAND in solidarity with Ugandans that want to exercise their constitutional right to association, through all peaceful and legal forms, and will work with all interested Ugandans to continue to demand for a conducive environment for enjoyment of their civic rights.”

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