The government has banned international and local NGOs operating in the country from employing foreigners unless they show proof that no Ugandan matches the skills of the expatriate staff.
Amb. Gabriel Kangwagye, the NGO registration board chairperson, told this newspaper yesterday that the not-for-profit groups solicit money from donors under the guise of helping the under-privileged, and they should not saturate local job market by employing their own.
“The NGOs come to help the community and complement government effort and should not solicit money in our names to create jobs for themselves,” he said. “Otherwise, they should set up commercial enterprises, not the not-for-profit, non-political and community-empowerment organisations.”
The tough talk follows new immigration guidelines issued about a month ago, which, among other things, require foreign professionals intending to practice here to be evaluated for competence by local professional registration bodies.
It is understood that many international organisations, particularly those dealing in health, agriculture and community development, bring in unqualified or under-qualified staff from outside the country, pay them more and install them as supervisors over otherwise better-qualified Ugandan employees.
Some of the foreign medics allegedly work in the health sector – diagnosing ailments, prescribing treatment and in some cases performing surgical procedures – without obtaining a work permit because international organisations employing them consider the requirement for fresh assessment as unnecessary.
This means if a medical procedure goes wrong – perhaps fatally – it would be impossible to trace the unregistered practitioner yet local governments upcountry often receive them with open arms due to shortage of local professionals, especially of health workers.
“If you go to the North and West Nile it is more like a dumping ground,” Amb. Kangwagye said.
There have been allegations, separately confirmed by the NGO Registration Board yesterday, that the officials attached to the Immigration Department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs have been picking specified payments from prospective foreign workers without focusing on their competencies.
Immigration spokesperson Eunice Kisembo last evening denied the accusations and said they have complied with all legal requirements prior to issuing work permits, and played a “complementary” role to that of the NGO Registration Board. The details emerged a day after Daily Monitor reported a net increase in migration to the country in recent years.
The new guidelines are similar to restrictions many countries impose on job-seekers. It was not immediately clear whether they have any relation to allegations by some NGOs that they are being harassed by state agencies in a bid to keep a lid on their political activism.
‘Sieving out quacks’
Ms Kisembo said they have been gate-keeping to sieve out quacks by requiring that NGOs applying for work permits on behalf of foreign nationals provide registration licenses and registration to operate.
“This is to ensure that the right and desirable immigrants enter the country,” she said, attributing the intensified vigilance in part to security threats.
The new guidelines oblige NGOs to declare the composition of their staff – specifying the number of foreign nationals and justifications why they, and not Ugandans, were employed in those positions. Amb. Kangwagye yesterday said that a newly constituted cross-ministerial committee would soon begin a countrywide exercise to screen foreign nationals employed by NGOs to eliminate those persona-non-grata.