The proposed NGO Registration (Amendment) Bill 2013, which seeks to widen government controls of NGOs, is worrisome. And government’s claims that mushrooming of NGOs has led to subversive work are questionable.
Without doubt, mushrooming NGOs must be supervised to make them work better. But the proposed law that seeks to control application, registration, management, monitoring, and deregistration of NGOs is downright restrictive. This will undermine government-NGO relation and undercut efforts to raise voices of the poor; improve service delivery and fight corruption.
Government rightly recognises NGOs as complementary. NGOs have helped citizens recover in post-war northern Uganda, recorded strides in war on HIV/Aids, and provided health services, education, water, and mitigated disasters, among others.
Not to destroy this mutual dependence, Cabinet must come up with crystal clear rules in the Bill about what defines subversive activities. The framers of the Bill must set out its principals and not leave discretionary powers for enforcers, which may open up the law for abuse.
To enforce reciprocity, government should listen to NGO Quality Assurance certification Mechanism (QuAM) Secretariat. National QuAM Coordinator Bonnie Kiconco Mutungi proposes strengthening of Clause 14 of the proposed law, which grants self-regulation among NGOs.
“Already, NGOs have multi-tier QuAM monitoring committees. And as demanded, NGOs file annual returns and have memoranda of understanding with districts.”
Government should endorse self-regulation among NGOs as the model has worked for other associations. The National NGO Board has limited technical resource to renew licences, supervise and monitor NGOs. Government can offer oversight to QuAM, which is the standards bearer for NGOs.
NGOs into indigenous, regional, partnerships and international organisations destroys networks and partnerships. For instance, the National NGO Forum is an umbrella for all the categories, and so is ActionAid, both having lower levels existing because of the upper tiers.
National NGO Forum’s call for the Bill to deal equitable penalties for breaches to NGO leaders and National NGO board staff is realistic.
NGOs raise voices of the poor and enforce service delivery and value for money.
Government should make NGOs work better and not kill them.