Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) operating in the Albertine region are bitter with local security and other leaders over what they call degrading efforts to advocate for human rights especially in relation to the oil sector calling the NGO Bureau to prevail over them and undo the negative perception about their work.
During their engagement with local leaders and the NGO Bureau Executive Director, Mr Stephen Okello, in Hoima city, the campaigners listed scores of complaints about local leaders.
Mr Okello, too, spared a lot time explaining Sections of the NGO Act 2016 as well as pointing out the weaknesses of NGOs in Uganda.
Mr Nasser Bbiira Kiwanuka, the Policy Analyst and Associate Consultant with the Centre for Ideas and Innovation, attributed the growing tensions between NGOs and local leaders to general ignorance of the law and a negative perception about the NGO sector.
“They expect us to talk good of government but I have not read a law that compels me to do so,” he said.
Mr Brian Nahamya, the Coordinator Bunyoro Coalition on Oil and Sustainable Livelihoods (BUCOSA), says the situation is getting tougher as the oil industry progresses.
On NGO sector regulator, Ms Jenifer Baitwamasa, a Programme Officer at Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA), requested the NGO Bureau to explain on their official way of inspection.
She said strange persons claiming to be regulators of the NGO sector have started storming offices interrogating activists and demanding internal organisation documents as an authority.
“One has no ID, no name tag, not in uniform but he claims to be the authority,” she said.
Ms Winnie Ngabirwe, the Executive Director for Global Rights Alert – the meeting organiser, expressed her dismay about the way some security officials have taken advantage of the Stop EACOP campaign to blackmail some NGOs.
“You hear an RDC threatening to chase away organisations that oppose EACOP (East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline). We think such statements are uncalled for,” she said.
In response to their grievances Mr Okello, the Executive Director NGO Bureau acknowledged that a negative perception potentially frustrates relationships.
He added that his office already had a plan to build the capacity of the District NGO Monitoring Committees (DNMCs) but working together with NGOs could go a long way.
Mr Okello advised NGOs to always petition his office whenever they are frustrated by the local leaders to avoid being branded none compliant yet they could be victims of the negative perception by some leaders.
“If you are denied an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) and you keep quiet, the NGO Bureau will demand it when you are filing returns and any excuse may be too late to be accepted,” he warned.
On other complaints about the DNMCs, Mr Okello pledged to coordinate with the line ministries to issue a circular giving guidance on misunderstood issues while on allegations of suppressing the NGO sector, he clarified that the NGO Bureau’s vision is to have a vibrant sector to play legitimate role and they work to achieve that.
Mr Okello also challenged the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)to pick interest in understanding what the NGO Act 2016 and the NGO Policy 2010 expect of them to avoid penalties and licence cancellation.
He said some NGOs have even failed to comply with their internal governing documents – an indicator that they cannot comply with the national laws.
Filing returns, registration with the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) and renewal of operation permits are other issues he highlighted to be crucial.
Mr Kenneth Ebong, the Hoima District Community Development Officer (DCDO), said misunderstandings are sometimes caused by NGOs that do not want to involve the district leaders in their operations.
Other demands presented by CSO members included need to expand the scope of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) from one sub-county to the district and also extend its licence to at least three years from a single year.