On August 18, 2021, the executive director of the National NGO Bureau of Uganda, Mr Stephen Okello, wrote to the executive director of Chapter Four inviting them for a meeting over a decision to indefinitely suspend the later.
However, sources that attended the meeting told this newspaper that while they were meeting the officials of the National NGO bureau, at the Media Centre, an announcement was being made about the decision to suspend them.
The suspension drew widespread condemnation from different sections of the public, accusing the government of targeting non-govermental organisations that work in the governance and human rights sectors.
In the run up to the suspension, both Chapter Four and the NGO Bureau had engaged in a string of correspondences with the later asking Chapter Four to show cause as to why their operating certificate should not be revoked.
Prior to the what transpired later, the NGO Bureau accused Chapter Four of failing to file returns and disclose sources of their funding, a claim which the later denied.
“The purpose of this notice is to require you to show cause within 30 (thirty) days from the date of this notice why the permit of operation should not be revoked in accordance to Section 33 of the NGO Act 2016 and the Certificate of Registration cancelled in accordance to Section 29 (4)(a) of the NGO Act 2016. Upon expiry of the 30 days period, if the organisation fails to show cause, the NGO Bureau shall proceed to exercise its powers under Section 7(b) of the NGO Act 2016,” the letter said.
“In the event that the organisation claims to have fulfilled these obligations, please do avail within the stated period, evidence of; the receiving Slips issued by the NGO Bureau for the different reporting periods since registration; payments of the fees for filing annual returns; and submission of the relevant documents to the District Technical Planning Committee and the District NGO Monitoring Committee where the headquarters of the organisation is located,” the letter added.
On January 11, Chapter Four filed the returns with the NGO Bureau and provided evidence to that effect. The bureau duly acknowledged the receipt of the returns and issued a receipt to Chapter Four Uganda to that effect.
On August 18, the bureau, however, took a decision and indefinitely suspended the operations of Chapter Four Uganda.
The bureau said according to the records, the NGO had never filed annual returns or furnished the Bureau with information relating to their operations from the time they registered.
“As per December 2020, Chapter Four Uganda had never submitted documents regarding its operations to the District Technical Planning Committee, the district, NGO Monitoring Committee and the Sub-county NGO Monitoring Committee where its headquarters are located,” the bureau said.
According to Section 39(3) (a) of the NGO Act, 2016 and Regulation 31(2) of the NGO Regulations, 2017, an organisation shall declare and submit to the District Technical Planning Committee, the District NGO Monitoring Committee and Sub-county NGO Monitoring Committee of the area in which it operates, estimates of income and expenditure, budget, work plan, information on funds received and the sources of funds.
Mr Okello said Chapter Four Uganda continued to operate in contravention of the NGO Act, 2016 and the NGO Regulations, 2017 hence a need for comprehensive investigations into their operations.
“The purpose of this communication is to inform you that the NGO permit of Chapter Four Uganda is hereby indefinitely suspended and the organisation should, therefore, cease operations ...to enable the NGO Bureau conduct a comprehensive investigation into their operations...,” the letter summarily concluded.
Chapter Four Uganda responds
On August 28, Chapter Four Uganda responded to the allegations raised by the bureau.
“This was duly notified to the NGO Bureau on January 11, 2021. Therefore, it is not accurate that Chapter Four Uganda continues to operate in contravention of the NGO Act, 2016,” part of the reply they filed with the NGO Bureau stated.
“As a law-abiding entity the books of accounts and operations of the organisation have been routinely audited by certified auditors...,” the letter added.
However, despite all the actions taken by the organisation, government went ahead to suspend the organisation.
While the law requires that the National NGO Bureau establishes district and sub county monitoring committees to closely monitor the activities of the NGOs, the bureau has never established any, except at KCCA after pressure from the NGOs.
On April 15, Chapter Four Uganda applied to KCCA for renewal of their Memorandum of Understanding. However, the organisation is yet to receive a reply from the authority.
Mr Nicholas Opio, the executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, told this newspaper at the weekend that there seems to be other reasons why they are being persecuted.
“I can tell you while it is true that we delayed to file the returns, when we were notified, we complied with the demand in time and we are wondering why we were indefinitely suspended,” he said.
Mr Opio said the organisation has instructed its lawyers to start legal proceedings against the NGO Bureau for their arbitrary decisions. He said they gave the bureau up to the end of last week to either reverse their decision, or they face court battles..
Mr Okello yesterday rubbished the claims of being targeted and said the suspension was to pave way for investigations.
“We did not suspend them for nothing. We did to, so that we can investigate why they failed to file returns right from the time they registered with the NGO bureau.
“Even when they finally filed those returns, it was not that they came on their own, it was after we wrote to them. So we are now moving to the next stage to investigate whether there is an internal governance issue,” he said.