Authorities in Uganda have suspended 54 aid groups, accusing them of failing to comply with regulations. In return, the heads of the accused groups say they are being harassed for political purposes.
Addressing journalists Friday in Kampala, Steven Okello, the executive director for the National Bureau of Non-Government Organizations, said the 54 NGOs were not complying with the country's NGO law.
He said some organizations are operating with expired permits, some have failed to file annual tax returns, and others are operating without registering. He said all must halt their operations with immediate effect.
Okello, speaking at Uganda's Media Center, cited examples.
"The first one is Chapter Four Uganda that has not filed returns from 2016-2020. The second is Citizens Coalition for Democracy in Uganda, commonly known as CCEDDU. Now CCEDDU does not only have issues with the filing of returns, they have issues like they proceeded to observe elections without accreditation from the Electoral Commission," he said.
In December 2020, the executive director of human rights group Chapter Four, Nicholas Opio, was arrested on allegations of money laundering.
At the time, the organization was reportedly collecting evidence surrounding the killings and arrests that occurred during two days of protests in Uganda that began on November 18.
Reaction from aid groups
A top official of the Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Miria Matembe, says they have only failed to file tax returns for one year because of COVID-19.
"And we went into lockdown. And the challenges have been quite a lot. And if within that year, you are a bit late in submitting returns, I do not think that that should earn us a suspension. So, me, I'm thinking, maybe, I don't know whether there could be another reason behind as you may imagine," Matembe said.
Godber Tumushabe heads a research group, the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, which the NGO Bureau says is operating without registration.
Godber says a suspension letter received Friday morning accused the NGO of not disclosing its activities.
He argues that by law, his organization is only required to register and comply with requirements under the Companies Act and not the NGO Bureau.
He says the NGO Bureau was instituted by the government to harass organizations.
"The NGO Bureau has been consistently used as a tool to politically and administratively harass Ugandan NGOs and Ugandan NGO leaders. And actually even pro-democracy activists," Godber said.
Okello says all district NGO monitoring committees have been put on alert to ensure all the NGOs named do not operate.
Previous government action
This is not the first time the government has targeted NGOs.
In February, several NGOs were forced to either close or scale down activities after the government ordered the suspension of the International NGO Democratic Governance Facility.
Eight development partners formed the DGF in 2011 to provide well-coordinated support to state and non-state entities in order to strengthen pro-democracy campaigns and protect human rights.
In suspending the DGF, President Yoweri Museveni said that the fund was exclusively foreign managed, and that its activities were calculated to subvert the government.