At least 25 non-governmental organisations have been asked to provide financial information to their regulator, the NGO bureau, The Observer has been told.
Government said that if it had its way, the non-governmental organisations would be closed by now. State minister for Internal Affairs Obiga Kania told The Observer on Saturday that NGOs that have been asked to submit their financial information must not complain but just hand in their information.
“In fact they should be closed until they submit their financial information,” Kania said.
“It is a regulatory requirement that every year NGOs disclose their sources of funding and the activities they spend money on.”
Kania said that while NGOs are by law required to declare their funds to Bank of Uganda, government had realised that they under-declare and spend more money on what he called “subversive” activities, including laundering.
This comes after five bank accounts belonging to the charity, ActionAid Uganda in Standard Chartered bank have been frozen by Bank of Uganda on orders of government.
Bank of Uganda said the police are investigating ActionAid Uganda for alleged conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering. But the NGO community says these unfounded claims are part of a witch-hunt targeting them for political reasons.
The agency’s Uganda country director, Arthur Larok said in short statement on Friday: “We would like the public to treat the allegations against ActionAid with the contempt it deserves. We shall push back, together with our numerous partners the sad trend in our country that the allegations against ActionAid optimise.”
The mother body, ActionAid International similarly said in a statement: “We understand that ActionAid Uganda may have been targeted because it is a key actor within a broader civil society coalition that is campaigning against the planned amendment of an article in the constitution that would scrap the presidential age limit.”
Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, told The Observer on Saturday that his organisation, together with 24 other NGOs have been asked to produce their financials to the bureau detailing their sources of income.
“This is even when most [of us] have updated our details already submitted to the bureau,” Ssewanyana said.
Most of the NGOs, according to another informed party, are accused of bankrolling groups and activities seen to be against the amendment of Article 102(b) to remove the presidential age limit cap of 75 years.
At 73, President Museveni would not be eligible for re-election in 2021, unless the constitution is amended. His government believes that the opposition is getting money to run their activities through these NGOs.
Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies and Uhuru Institute were searched by police recently and some of their files taken.
Ssewanyana said: “This shows a backlash characterised by suppression of freedom of expression, association and assembly. NGOs pose a major threat to the undemocratic practices of government. That is why they have become prime targets of the armed forces and other government agencies.”
In the past five years, government has come up with several measures to narrow the space in which NGOs and human rights organisations operate. The NGO Act, 2016 was seen as one such a measure to restrict their operations.
The US-based rights defender, Human Rights Watch has said in a statement about Uganda that: “Groups whose work focus on issues related to the environment, land, and oil face increasing obstruction. Land tenure remains a very contentious issue and the government has been particularly aggressive towards NGO activity that could threaten government and private company investments”.
“The searches and demand for financial documents are all part and parcel of a larger plot to stifle NGOs’ participation,” said Ssewanyana.
There have also been a number of break-ins at different organisations where their files and computers have been taken. Police promises to investigate but there have been no reports made public.