Why the new Uganda NGO Act 2017?

  1. Issue

The new era is upon us. We are living in times of sudden changes. In the past four years, developments have occurred in the economic, social and political arenas making several Not for profit organizations (NFPOs) to experience challenges in delivering their mandates. In this era, which Harvard Business School calls VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, there is strong competition for reducing donor funds amid restrictive NGO regulatory environment. In this issue, I give a deep dive at the key provisions of the new NGO Act passed in 2016 with the Act further reviewed in May 2017.

The new act provides for a National Bureau for NGO that will register and oversee activities of all NGOs in Uganda with the mandate to:

  1. Suspend the permit of any NGO;
  2. Charge fees for any services performed by the Bureau.
  3. Non- Governmental Monitoring Committee was set up to oversee operations of all NGOs and CBOs at the district levels
  4. Expose the affected (suspended) organization to the public;
  5. Blacklist the organization;
  6. Revoke an organization’s permit;

2. The cause

Government makes new laws and regulations in response to the challenges of the day. More new laws and regulations indicate a reactive approach by government to managing emerging challenges. In Uganda, there has been claims that some NGOs and NFPOs act as conduits to finance some activists and opposition politicians to run campaigns and conduct mass action activities aimed at discrediting and undermining the government by mobilizing the masses for popular action.

Financing the opposition and anti-state activists is something no government in power wants to tolerate. As long such suspicions exist among the leaders, more restrictive regulatory regime should be expected. The new NGO law in Uganda effectively puts government on top of all NGOs working in the country. Failure to meet the provisions of the law would lead to termination of practicing license.

3. The solution

To operate in the country, NGOs must comply to the provisions of the law which include, but not limited to:

  1. If you have not yet registered, now is the time to go and register with the NGO Bureau to be licensed to operate legally in the country; this shall include paying the prescribed fees to the NGO Bureau
  2. File the recent copy of your NGO constitution with the Bureau;
  3. Assign a clear compliance champion to keep the operating permit up to date, as well as make sure that the permit is renewed within six months of expiry of the existing one. NGOs must take note that operating without a permit shall lead to being charges 10 currency points and it represents a huge non-compliance cost
  4. In addition, any NGO operating in Uganda must submit annual returns (audited books of accounts) within two months upon completion of the financial statements and within 6 months upon completing the financial year as per clause 39;
  5. Close 40 of the NGO Act: offences that an NGO is liable to serious offenses. An NGO or its staff commits an offence when: –

(a) On being required to do so, fails or refuses to produce to the Bureau a certificate, permit, constitution, charter or other relevant document or information relevant for the purposes of the Act;

(b) Knowingly gives false or incomplete information for the purpose of obtaining a permit or other requirement;

(c) Operates contrary to the conditions or directions specified in its permit; or

(d) Engages in any activity that is prohibited by the Act.

As a Board member or staff of any NGO operating in Uganda, make sure you are compliant with the provisions of the law. Compliance risk represents the biggest risks to NGOs and indeed all other businesses in Uganda

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