Government deals heavy blow to NGOs

Thursday February 04 2021
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By Frederic Musisi
By Damali Mukhaye

Uncertainty yesterday loomed large over the  future of civil society organisations in the country after President Museveni ordered that operations of Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), their principal funder, be “immediately suspended”.

President Museveni ordered the Inspector General of Government (IGG), police and State House Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate how the Ministry of Finance authorised the DGF to operate in Uganda and allegedly bankroll NGOs and government agencies to undermine him.

The DGF is financed by governments of Denmark, Ireland, Austria, UK, Sweden, Norway and the European Union,  with an aim of ensuring equitable growth, poverty eradication, rule of law and long term stability in Uganda.

It started in 2011 as a five-year programme, which was extended and the entity is now running its second five-year plan until December 2022.
On January 2, President Museveni wrote to Finance minister Matia Kasaija, telling him about his discomfort with DGF.

Mr Museveni said DGF had been “irregularly and unilaterally” licensed by the Finance ministry’s Permanent Secretary to be operated exclusively by a foreign mission in Uganda without consultation and limited involvement of Ugandans.

“How is it possible that the Ugandans whose affairs are being dealt with here can only be spectators in the management of their own affairs? This is not the financing of a private business but the funding of State and non-state actors to achieve the political objective of the funders,” Mr Museveni wrote to Minister Kasaija.

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He further charged: “How and why did the Minister of Finance unilaterally make such a major decision with far reaching consequences, let alone one whose effect is to surrender the sovereignty of the people of Uganda to foreigners? Was this a reason of subversion, corruption, or criminal intelligence, or all of these? Why wasn’t Cabinet and I consulted?”
The President said authorising DGF with an estimated worth of £100m (about Shs500b) at its commencement is “unacceptable.”
 
Mr Museveni also announced suspension of DGF activities in Uganda “until Cabinet has fully reviewed this matter” and after a new governance structure, with adequate local representation, has been agreed upon.
The President’s letter was widely circulated on social media sites.

However, the Danish ambassador to Uganda, Mr Nicolaj Hejberg Petersen, told Daily Monitor last evening: “We have not received any formal communication from the government. As development partners, we remain open to dialogue with the government.”
Denmark is currently the development partners’ chair of DGF which bankrolls at least 74 institutions, both state and non-state actors.

Attempts to reach Mr Kasaija were futile by press time but the ministry of Finance’s spokesperson, Mr Jim Mugunga, said: “There is an established mechanism through which the minister, to whom the letter was addressed, acts on such executive instruction.”

“Likewise there exists a clear communication channel between parties to the letter. I have no reasons to believe that any of the parties including the minister is not already undertaking appropriate actions. This is a process...we should await outcomes from investigations and assessment of new information that is available,” Mr Mugunga added.

Investigations
The IGG spokesperson, Ms Ali Munira, confirmed they had received the President’s instructions to investigate DGF.
“Our investigations started yesterday [Tuesday], and we’ll be examining how the relationship between government and the said entity was reached for possible culpability,” Ms Munira said.

Sources familiar with the situation told this newspaper that the DGF issue was brought to the President’s attention last month at the height of the election campaigns as security agencies were trying to block all avenues for financial mobilisation for the National Unity Platform presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine.

One official said the security hierarchy  suspected part of the money Mr Kyagulanyi used in the campaign were transmitted through NGOs.
Daily Monitor reached out to some of the heads of the beneficiary institutions who described President Museveni’s decision as outrageous.

Mr Peter Mwesige, the executive director of African Centre for Media Excellency (ACME), said as far as they know, DGF has not received any official communication from Ugandan authorities requesting them to suspend their activities in the country.

He, however, said he was aware that the development partners that contributed to the DGF fund basket are already engaging on the matter and seeking clarification from government on the reports that are circulating about the suspension.

Mr Mwesige said DGF has been supporting media houses to strengthen their institutional capacity to develop their newsroom staff and publish quality public affairs stories that can promote citizen engagement through training and reporting grants.

Mr Stephen Okello, the executive director of National NGO Bureau at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said their work will not be affected by the suspension of DGF since NGO Bureau is a government entity.

He said DGF has been funding quarterly dialogue meetings between NGO sectors and government.
Mr Okello said they would also hold reflection meetings where they could go to the field to meet district leaders to find out how they were implementing NGO regulatory framework and whether they were regulating their works effectively.

“For the bureau, our work will not be affected because this is a government entity, and for them, they were just coming in to compliment a few areas, but our mandate and work will still stand since the government has the mandate to support the bureau,” Mr Okello said.

What some political parties say
Political parties that have been receiving funds from the DGF through the Netherlands Institute of Multiparty Democracy will also be affected.
The president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Mr Patrick Amuriat, said this was a cowardly move by President Museveni, which any democracy-seeking person would not do.

“This is Museveni fighting democracy. He knows the work of DGF in supporting CSOs and also the activities of political parties in the country in promoting democracy. This has a danger to political survival. Museveni has launched an attack on the activities of CSOs. These are collateral damages. It is a political kind of move meant to curtail the progress of political parties,” Mr Amuriat said.

“...It is very unfortunate, and an insensitive move since the livelihood of many Ugandans employed in the organisations that are supported by DGF is going to be deprived,” he added.
Mr Asuman Basalirwa, the president of JEEMA Party, said DGF has been conducting their activities openly.

“It is unfortunate that the government can take such a decision.  DGF has been supporting political processes in an open and transparent manner and the government has been aware of all their operations. I cannot understand why the government should be closing activities of DGF. In any case, government has been the greatest beneficiary of DFG. Government should not panic to this extent,” Mr Basalirwa said.

The affected say

Mr Robert Ssempala, the executive director of Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), said the suspension of DGF operations will not only affect the outreach activities they have been doing for journalists in Uganda, but will also affect salaries of its staff who have been paid using grants from DGF.

“The very surprising termination of operations of DGF will certainly affect us fundamentally. DGF has been funding a lot of our outreach programmes including those that seek to empower journalists in terms of their safety and security, doing community engagement on the role of the media. We have been using their funds to support journalists with psychosocial therapy, medication and relocation and also supporting part of our litigation to ensure that we pursue justice on behalf of journalists,” Mr Ssempala said.

The affected beneficiaries

  • Parliament of Uganda
  • Ministry of internal affairs (National Bureau of NGOs)
  • Action Aid
  • Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development
  • School of Women & Gender Studies, Mak University
  • Uganda Law Society (ULS)
  • Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
  • Netherlands Institute for  Multiparty Democracy
  • Public Interest Law Clinic, Makerere University
  • Uganda National NGO Forum(NGO-FORUM)
  • Advocates Coalition for Development & Environment
  • African Centre for Media Excellency (ACME)
  • Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA
  • Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda
  • African Centre for Energy and Mineral Policy
  • African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
  • Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group (CSBAG)
  • Food Rights Alliance (FRA)
  •     
  • Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU)
  •     
  • African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims.
  • Legal Aid Service Provider Network
  •     Initiative for Social and Economic Rights(ISER)
  •     
  • International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)
  • Gulu Women Economic Development & Globalisation
  •     
  • Ecology Christian Organization (ECO)
  • Global Rights Alerts (GRA)
  • Community Driven Network Uganda (CODNET)
  • Community Integrated Development Initiative (CIDI)
  • Centre for Governance and Economic Development
  • Centre for Basic Research (CBR)
  • Center for Women in Governance (CEWIGO)
  • Amuria District Development Agency(ADDA)
  • Alliance for Mayors & Municipal Leaders (AMICAALL)
  • African Youth Initiative Network (AYINET)
  • Akina-Mama Wa Afrika (AMWA)
  • Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET)
  • Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM)
  • African Centre for Trade and Development
  • African Leadership Institute (ALI)
  • African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
  • Justice Defenders (JD)
  • Kabarole Research and Resource Centre (KRC)
  • Kapchorwa Civil Society Organisation Alliance
  • Kitgum District Local Government
  • Kind Initiative for Development (Kind-Ug)
  • Kituo-cha Katiba – (KCK)
  • Meandeleo ya Jamii (MYJ)
  • Muslim Centre for Justice Law (MCJL)
  • National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders
  • Nebbi District local government
  • New Vision Printing and Publishing Company Ltd.
  • Renal Reform International (RRI)
  • Platform for Labour Actions (PLA)
  • Refugee Law Project-Makerere University (RLP)
  • Restless Development Uganda (RD)
  • Rwenzori Anticorruption Coalition
  • Rwenzori Forum for Peace and Justice
  • Teso Anti-corruption Coalition (TAC)
  • Teso Religious Leaders Efforts for Peace & Reconciliation
  • The Apac Anti-Corruption Coalition (TAACC)
  • The Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRC-U)
  • Transparency International Uganda (TIU)
  • The  Women’s International Peace Centre (WIPC)
  • Uganda Debt Network (UDN)
  • Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC)
  • Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC)
  • Uganda Law Council (ULC)
  • Uganda Project Implementation and Management Centre
  • Uganda Radio Network (URN)
  • West Minister Foundation for Democracy (WMFD)
  • Wizarts Media
  • World Voices Uganda.
  • Justice Centre Uganda
  • Kasese District Local Government
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