By Mulengera Reporters
There are growing indicators that mistrust and suspicion is fast taking root and eroding the clout top executives of the Civil Society Organizations had for long created for themselves. There are a number of NGOs that have been subjected to very damaging forensic audits by donor partners and also by CIID headquarters Kibule where a number of GEF files remain open. This simply implies they are facing open-ended investigations. One of those being investigated is a human rights advocacy NGO based in the Ntinda neighborhood and instead of owning up, its promoters have resorted to suspecting it’s the other “envious” NGOs out to get them out of business.
The fights are so serious that in his latest missive, NGO Forum ED Richard Sewakiryanga cautiously looks forward to a day when some very senior person steps forward and offers to mediate to end the wrangling and animosity between some leading figures in the NGO movement.
Perhaps Sewakiryanga knows the depth of the problem more than anyone else because the wrangling relating to Board leadership at his own organization remains unresolved following the acrimonious exit of Action Aid whose Arthur Larok is the immediate former Board Chairman at NGO Forum.
Sources say there are lots of governance, transparency and accountability discussions that go as deep as threatening the NGO sector’s own future existence. A gentleman who Action Aid had nominated to replace Larok as NGO Forum Board declined taking up the position arguing there are lots of improper things that must be put right before he takes up the assignment.
To many, this emerging factionalism is increasingly tending towards a situation that is reminiscent of the 1990s when serious row existed between Warren Nyamugasira-led NGO Forum and Prof Kwesiga-led DENIVA. Theirs was a disagreement as to whether foreign funding was appropriate at all in the running of CSOs in the post-1986 Uganda. DENIVA became the exclusive umbrella for those who despised foreign funding and vice versa. There are fears the current situation could escalate to something similar or even worse.
Yet looking at the tremendous contribution NGOs/CSOs have made to Uganda in especially the last 34 years of Museveni’s NRM governance, one gets the impression that government needs them to remain a vibrant movement for their service delivery-related complimentary role to continue being played. Right from independence, NGOs have been part of the Ugandan story and the GoU should do all it can to help the relevant CSOs leaders move towards de-escalation of the current animosity.
WHAT IS AT STAKE
On top of the well-known reality that there are areas and districts of Uganda where the NGO service delivery impact is more felt than that of government, the NGOs have equally been vital in job creation. A recent Oxfam International research shows that Ugandan NGOs are currently employing more than 500,000 Ugandans. These are in direct salaried employment off which billions are annually paid for URA’s PAYE, NSSF and other statutory monthly remittances. The number exceeds 1m once those indirectly employed by NGOs are also factored in.
This makes them only second to private sector because even government (including police, prisons and UPDF) doesn’t employ more than 450,000 people. On the GDP, which is the country’s total wealth, the Oxfam report indicates that the NGO/CSOs movement contributes (in trillions) up to 10%. The NGO Bureau, which is their regulator, annually collects more than Shs10bn from them as they pay statutory fees and renewal of their operational licenses.
When it comes to Museveni and the longevity of NRM politics, the NGOs for long (inadvertently) helped bolster Museveni’s image abroad. Each time Western donors bashed Museveni accusing him of not tolerating criticism, regime spin doctors quickly referred to existence of a very vibrant civil society as an indicator of the abundant freedom that exists in Uganda. Indeed many NGOs have excelled at critiquing government and exposing its inadequacies. This has often happened to levels that can’t be tolerated in other Sub Saharan African countries.
In extreme circumstances, the NGOs have gone as far as exposing public corruption which actually was the focus of the Black Monday movement that had all CSO activists coming together to expose what they considered grand corruption scandals in government. In fact some credit the NGO sector’s name & shame approach for making it risky for public officials to indulge in grand scale corruption.
The whistle-blowing they made is considered by some in the donor community as being responsible for pro-accountability financial management reforms that the GoU undertook. These include the Finance Ministry’s IFMIS system that diminished room for corruption to be practiced in government. And as a result of interventions like IFMIS, there is diminishing possibility for money to freely be available for stealing to people in authority positions. It’s such easily stolen money that would be used to purchase prime properties in Kampala and its suburbs and some attribute the contraction in the real estate market to such initiatives.
NGOs like TASO and World Vision greatly contributed to the post-1986 recovery of Uganda as a country and their funding greatly contributed and was the lifeline at a time the GoU itself was very broke and struggling to meet basic requirements.
GoU ON DGF BOARD
In a related development, Mulengera News has learnt the circumstances under which the GoU ceased having representation on the governing Board of Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) through which seven European and Scandinavian countries fund NGOs and other programs in Uganda. DGF is a multi-billion fund mostly going in governance programs. The Board comprises of the sitting ambassadors representing the seven countries and the chairpersonship goes to each ambassador on a rotational basis.
At some point, the GoU was represented by Fred Omach and Prof Pamela Sabiiti Mbabazi. Former LoP Prof Ogenga Latigo too was on the DGF Board for the period he was out of the Agago MP job (2011-2016). Latigo told Mulengera News that he was posted by the donors who desired to leverage on his vast experience on governance and legislative issues and he was never a representative of the GoU. Previous media reports had indicated there was a fight as donors resisted efforts by Sam Kutesa-led Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have the GoU represented once again.
We have since established that actually it was their own disorganization that cost the GoU continued representation on the DGF governing Board. Fred Omach, who used to represent the Finance Ministry, says he was unceremoniously removed from the DGF Board by former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. “He was furious that the Finance Ministry had nominated somebody to the DGF Board without consulting him. He said it’s the business of the OPM to determine who represents government on that Board. I sat there for very few times and was removed and my boss the Prime Minister was very unhappy and since that time I don’t know what happened,” Omach said in an interview with Mulengera News.
Speaking anonymously, sources inside DGF said government’s failure to reconstitute its team and sort out itself regarding who (between Finance Ministry, Foreign Affairs & OPM) should sit on the Board was construed as constructive decision to exclude itself from the Board that decides to allocate billions of shillings every year. Efforts to get comment from OPM were unsuccessful as Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda and his PPS Collins Ddombo remained unavailable. For days the duo didn’t pick. Neither did they reply text messages.
Another knowledgeable source explained (something which Prof Latigo also corroborated) that the essentiality of the GoU being represented on the DGF Board ended the moment political parties, including the ruling NRM, ceased to be eligible for direct funding from the Facility. Latigo says two of the benefiting parties defaulted on accountability, something DGF reciprocated by halting funding to all parties. And generally speaking, the Scandinavian countries halted direct funding to GoU (in favor of project support) protesting the OPM scandal that resulting into Kazinda being incarcerated in Luzira. (For comments, call, text or whatsapp us on 0703164755 or email us at email@example.com).