Govt freezes accounts of 4 NGOs doing poll work

FIA ED Syndey Asubo without providing the specifics confirmed the freeze, but declined to offer further details.

The Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) has ordered the freezing of bank accounts of at least four Civil Society Organisations and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) involved in good governance and election observation in the country. 

Sources privy to the investigations say the four have been on surveillance for some time over their alleged links and “friendliness” to the Opposition political parties.

Mr Sydney Asubo, the executive director of FIA, without providing the specifics confirmed the freeze, but declined to offer further details.

“These are still active cases and I cannot comment on them. What I can only tell you is that we have held discussions with the concerned entities and we now know the issues from their sides,” Mr Asubo said. 

Our investigations through multiple sources reveal that one of the affected NGOs is the Uganda National NGO forum. Another one is said to be one of the funders of the 2016 Women’s situation room. The situation room received funding from the UN Women, Swedish government, Angie Brooks International Centre, Diakonia, GIZ, UNDP, UNFPA, and Urgent Action Fund.

However, Mr Moses Isooba, the executive director of the National NGO Forum, said he was not aware that they and other NGOs have had their accounts frozen.

“I don’t know and we don’t have such information communicated to us,” he said.

Bank of Uganda did not offer any explanation on why the accounts have been frozen. Ms Charity Mugumya, the bank’s director of communications, promised to get back to us later but did not do so by press time yesterday. She had neither replied to our e-mail inquiries.

Mr Wilbrod Owor, the executive director of Uganda Bankers’ Association, who declined to confirm that the banks had received this specific instructions, said they receive directives from the FIA and Bank of Uganda almost on daily basis on individual accounts, companies and organisations.

“Yes I can tell you our members receive instructions from both FIA and Bank of Uganda and once we receive such directives from our regulators, we act promptly and in this case, if the directives have been communicated, then the banks must have acted,” Mr Owor said.

NGOs go mute

Multiple sources this reporter spoke to declined to go on record for fear of being persecuted and said the affected NGOs are under strict instruction to go silent. 

“I know the National NGO Forum is one of those affected, but that is how far I can go to tell you. Please don’t expose me because I don’t want to be in trouble. They are targeting all of us,” the source said.

Another source said the forum is affected but they have been intimidated not to speak.  “For sure I know they are among those whose accounts have been frozen, but because government has threatened them, they fear to speak out,”  the source said.

“Security people think these NGOs are supporting the Opposition parties and have always threatened them both verbally and in writing,” the source added.

A third source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said government has continued to use the FIA and security forces to crack a whip on CSOs who are critical of governance issues in the country. 

“Unfortunately, the FIA has been used as a tool to suppress agencies that the regime may fear will threaten their status quo,” the source said.

Mr Stephen Okello, the executive director of the National NGO Bureau at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, also failed to respond to our repeated calls and messages. 

The bureau is charges with the responsibility of regulating the operations of the NGOs in the country. Naturally, any decision relating to the investigations into the operations and funding of the NGOs would be with the blessing of the bureau.

This year alone, at least two heads of the United States and European Union funded NGOs and three other heads of NGOs have either been deported or barred from coming back to the country on accusations of supporting an agenda for regime change.

Past cases

Uganda government has had run-ins with the CSO it deems critical of its governance records. The European Union and the US Mission in Uganda have in the recent past raised issues of continued brutality against the Opposition political parties and their candidates for different elective positions.

In August 2019, the FIA asked Equity Bank for the account details of 13 non-governmental organisations to establish the source of their funding. 

The organisations included Action Aid International Uganda, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, National Non-Governmental Organisation Forum, Human Rights Network Uganda, National Democratic Institute, and Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies. 

Others were Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Democratic Governance Facility, Kick Corruption out of Uganda, National Association of Professional Environmentalists, and the African Institute for Energy Governance.