UNNGOF appreciates the fact that the NGO regulatory framework in Uganda has been evolving and as a result most NGOs may not be moving at the speed that the regulatory systems and frameworks are moving. For example, over the last few months, the NGO Bureau teams have conducted impromptu visits to NGO offices across the country and the exercise caught a number of NGOs off guard in terms of regulatory compliance. UNNGOF has also learnt that some organizations have corporate challenges which ultimately leads to breach of minimum corporate governance standards. These challenges range from how the boards are constituted, who is constituting them, how they are run, relationships between the organs of the NGOs, external relationships and program development practices.
It’s against this background that UNNGOF in partnership with Forus and with funding from European Commission undertook on-site legal health checks with 11 Regional Advocacy Networks(RANs) in Buganda, Busoga, Bukedi, Sebei, Karamoja, Lango, Acholi, West Nile, Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole regions between 3rd and13th March 2021. This exercise was supported by the UNNGOF Legal Counsel together with the UNNGOF Administrator with the aim of conducting a deeper health check on the status of RANs’ compliance to the legal operating environment i.e provisions of the NGO Act 2016, Companies Act 2003 and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2016(AMLA). The significance of this is that many times once NGOs are registered with NGO Bureau, they take a back seat as far as their legal obligations are concerned and only focus on their projects implementation.
During this visit quick findings indicated that (a) annual returns to the NGO Bureau was not consistent over the years as the supporting documents such as audit reports required significant funding which is still a challenge to many Organizations; (b) Filing returns with the register of companies was something that many Organizations were not familiar with as the impression that once you have filed returns to the NGO Bureau, it covers everything; on the contrary, however, this is not the case as NGOs derive their legal status as companies limited by guarantee when they incorporate at the Uganda Registration Services Bureau; (c) Registration with the Financial Intelligence Authority(FIA) is another challenge that is faced at the regional level by the Networks and other Organizations as AMLA has not been fully popularized for NGOs to understand the implications of being listed as accountable persons.
As a result, this site visit provided an opportunity for the UNNGOF team together with the RAN staff to identify their governance strengths and weaknesses and thus identify instant remedies. This initial engagement will go a long way in boosting the legitimacy and credibility of our regional partners which will ultimately improve the image of the sector and enhance our advocacy and lobbying efforts. A call was made to the RANs that this information should not stay at the secretariat but trickle down to members as one bad apple affects the whole basket and therefore non-compliance compromises the legitimacy and credibility of the sector.