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Ugandan Parliament Convenes to Debate the Controversial NGO Bill

A HRAPF Official at the convening to discuss the proposed NGO Bill
A HRAPF Official at the convening to discuss the proposed NGO Bill

By Barigye Ambrose

On 28th June 2015, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum held a consultative meeting with leaders and members from the LGBTI movement over the NGO Bill which is due for debate in Parliament today(1st September 2015).

This bill was tabled on 10th April 2015; as per the Parliamentary order paper, the NGO bill is at the top of the topics list to be discussed this week. Other issues on this week’s agenda include the newly proposed districts, the gambling bill and approval of national loans.

In the gathering, HRAPF legal officers Mwebaza, Patricia and Joanine shared in-depth details about the research and advocacy they have been doing about the bill in regards to the rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda.

“Indirectly, this bill is intended to phase out  organizations that are advocating for the rights of LGBTI people and it is worse than the previous Anti Homosexuality Bill; so we need to act,” Mwebaza  an Advocacy and Networking Officer at HRAPF affirmed to the participants citing the effect of the bill on civil liberties.

Proposed Amendments

The amendment to the NGO Bill proposes that the act shall apply to all Non-Governmental Organisations operating in Uganda.  It shall also apply to all faith based organisations and all kinds of organisations of a purely spiritual nature until such a time when the Minister by statutory instrument shall prescribe otherwise. The Minister may also extend this bill to other organisations as he deems fit.

The amendment also proposes that the bill should list its objectives and rules in their order of priority as follows

  1. Establish an administrative and regulatory framework within which organisations can conduct their affairs
  2. Promote and require organisations to maintain a high standard of governance transparency and accountability
  3. Promote a spirit of cooperation , mutual partnerships and shared responsibility between organization sector, Ministries, Departments, Government agencies and all related stakeholders
  4. Provide for development of strong independent organisations, for public benefit purposes among others

The amendment also provides for the word board to be replaced by Bureau although the latter will still have complete power over all NGO activities in the country. The above amendment was proposed after the realisation that the current NGO regulating body is called a board and there would be confusing between the two.

In total, there are 42 proposed amendments to the Bill.

Implications of the NGO Bill to the LGBTI Movement

The issuance of permits to organisations will further hinder the work of LGBTI  organisations that are already facing hardships with registration while monitoring of  all organizational accounts will directly affect the movement as it will distress all funding based projects.

Critics say this bill will be governments way of keeping tabs on the amount of money received to help support LGBTI work ie sensitization and community empowerment projects. The proposed accountability for all organisations will also create a hindrance since most LGBTI organisations channel their funds to community capacity building which is often termed as ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by the government.

The Bill will also affect the existing relationships between various NGOs and the LGBTI movement. As most will probably with draw all the support they have bee rendering to the community in fear of violating the law.

What You Need to Need To Know About the NGO Bill 2015

-The NGO Bill 2015 is intended to replace the current NGO Act 2006 as the law regulating NGOs in Uganda

– It was gazzetted for debate in Parliament on 10th April 2015

-The reason given for introducing this new law was to check the rapid growth of NGOs which has led to ‘subversive methods of work and activities, which in turn undermine accountability and transparency in the sector.

Stated Objectives of The Bill

-To develop a voluntary, non-partisan charity culture.

-To provide an enabling environment for the NGO sector

-To promote a spirit of cooperation, mutual partnership and shared responsibility between NGOs and government.

-To promote the capacity of the NGO sector to be sustainable and deliver services professionally.

-To establish a fund for NGOs

-To provide for special obligation of NGOs.

General view of the Bill:

Despite its objectives that require it to be regulatory, the Bill has the effect of create more government control and surveillance on NGOs rather than regulating them.