Civil society organisations in Uganda have of recent been taunted by the government, picking on loopholes in what the minister of Internal Affairs, Gen Aronda Nyakairima, calls “errant NGOs”.
Of the 10,511 registered NGOs in Uganda, many have been termed “brief case” because of unscrupulous individuals who form organisations to make a quick buck or meet personal ends.
The civil society hence wants to set standards by certifying who meets the criteria of being fully fledged NGO, therefore, hoping they can reverse their Achilles heel.
And on August 7, 25 civil society organisations will be confirmed as duly certified. The 25 have met the requirements set by the proposed quality assurance mechanism that looks to regulate the conduct of such organisations in Uganda.
This will bring the total of certified CSOs to 68, given that 43 others have gone through the process since 2010.
More CSOs are in line to undergo the certification process before close of the year.
The NGO Quality Assurance Certification Mechanism (QuAM) coordinated by Deniva and the Uganda National NGO Forum was launched in 2006 but it was slow in gaining traction.
Mr Richard Sewakiryanga of the Uganda National NGO Forum admits that the optimism that greeted the launch of the initiative was not quickly transmitted into tangible benefits.
“Lawyers regulate themselves; doctors regulate themselves; accountants do the same,” Mr Sewakiryanga said, “civil society organisations will significantly enhance their reputation and improve their effectiveness if they successfully regulate themselves.
“Everybody thought that the initiative would be quickly taken up but the marketing strategy was lacking. People were a bit laid back; everyone was waiting,” Mr Sewakiryanga adds.
Going forward, Mr Sewakiryanga says, “We are going to be very intentional and make it intensive.” He hastens to add, however, that QuAM is a voluntary initiative and that it is not meant to operate as “a policing mechanism for CSOs. Only those who are willing will apply for certification.”
Even then, however, being certified will inevitably have implications.
Prof Sabiiti Makara, a political scientist at Makerere University, says that once the initiative is in full force, “certification will almost be compulsory.
“It is hard to imagine that there will be CSOs accessing donor funds without the certification because donors will surely look at it as a way to sieve genuine from bogus CSOs,” Prof Makara says.
Stages of certification
Ms Bonnie Kiconco Mutungi, the National QuAM coordinator, says their target is to pick up speed and certify at least 50 CSOs per year. This will be a step-up on the part of the QuAM Secretariat.
On the other hand, however, it is a pointer to how long it will take to certify more than 10,000 organisations that are on the National NGO Board register.
Ms Kiconco says that the number of applications for certification has been increasing “slowly” and that more than half of the organisations that apply for certification go through the process.
The CSO that seeks to be certified applies to the District QuAM Committee in its district of operation or registration. After the committee has considered the application, it makes a recommendation to the National QuAM Council on whether to grant certification. The District QuAM Committee, in processing the application, follows a set of guidelines spelt out in the “Code of Honour” of QuAM. The Committee, in addition to hearing from the applying CSO, also hears from the public, especially those people the applying CSO is supposed to serve.
Certification assumes three levels; the provisional certificate, full certificate and advanced certificate. Upstart CSOs that meet “only selected minimum quality standards” are awarded a provisional certificate.
There are 59 standards to be met in total, 32 of which are categorised as “minimum standards” which must be met before a CSO gets full certification.
Out of these 32 “minimum standards”, 18 are basic which a newly formed CSO should meet before it gets a provisional certificate.
Within a year of holding a provisional certificate, the CSO is required to meet the other 18 “minimum standards” and apply for a full certificate. If it fails within the first year, it will be given one more year to sort itself out. If it fails, it will no longer be eligible for full certification.
Some of the basic minimum standards listed in the “Code of Honour” are: Being registered, having a Constitution and demonstrating that the organisation adheres to it, having a shared vision and mission, having an office address and having a development-oriented and non-partisan agenda”.
The third level of certification, the advanced certificate, although not mandatory on the part of the CSOs that go through the process, will only be awarded to those NGOs that have met all the minimum quality standards and have proceeded to meet the “standards for improvement.”
Role of government
The QuAM initiative is “by NGOs and for NGOs,” says Ms Kiconco, meaning that the government would have no role to play in it. Mr Sewakiryanga adds however, the government had wanted the initiative to be registered with the NGO Board, it would lead to some complications. “What would we register it as then?” he wonders.
The NGO Board registers NGOs and CSOs, Mr Sewakiryanga (pictured) says, arguing that QuAM is neither of these, but a regulation mechanism for these organisations. Probably this could call for a review of the relevant laws or enacting legislation to accommodate the initiative. The Uganda Law Society (ULS), for instance, was instituted by an Act of Parliament. However, there are similar initiatives which exist without such legislation. The Independent Media Council, for instance, is meant to be a self-regulation mechanism for media practitioners but it is not supported by a legal framework comparable to the Act that establishes the ULS.
Prof Makara says the QuAM initiative is an attempt by the CSOs to prevent the government “interference”.
“With this initiative, they (CSOs) will tell (the) government, “Look, we are responsible organisations and we have a mechanism that regulates the way we work.”
The relationship between the government and CSOs has at times been strained, with, for instance, CSOs accusing the government of not doing enough to deal with the office break-ins visited on a number of them in recent months. Government officials have in the past criticised CSOs, for, among other things, being “unaccountable” to anyone and talk of a Bill to “regulate” the conduct of CSOs is no longer new.
“By their nature and mandate, be it in governance, environmental protection, human rights or transparency and accountability, most CSOs are bound to conflict with the government of the day,” Prof Makara says, “So it is important that the power of the government to regulate the working of CSOs is checked.”
He adds, however, that the freedom granted to CSOs has “on many occasions” been abused, hence the need for “robust self-regulation.” This is what QuAM intends to do.