Ugandan CSO Under Investigations On Minister’s Orders
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The Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) has officially commenced investigations into the alleged “unlawful activities” of the Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), a Ugandan civil society organization. This follows a complaint by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima that the organization was ‘de-campaigning government programs.’
In a letter dated 24th July 2015, the Registrar General of URSB notified the subscribers of GLISS Mr. Godber Tumushabe and Ms. Sophie Kutegeka of the appointment of inspectors under Sections 173 and 174 of the Companies Act of 2012. The inspectors are to investigate the activities of GLISS in line with the minister’s complaint.
“Further, this letter serves to notify you that you will be required to submit requisite documents/relevant evidence and also appear for a hearing on a date to be communicated as soon as the investigators report is ready,” read the letter in part.
On 3rd July 2015, the Minister of Internal Affairs demanded for an urgent investigation leading up to possible de-registration of GLISS after accusing its directors of “having been involved in de-campaigning government programs and actively recruiting youths to join political opposition parties” contrary to the objects for which it was registered.
It is these activities that URSB now terms ‘unlawful activities.’
This action smacks of the systemic narrowing of civic space especially for organisations that are critical of the government.
GLISS was registered by URSB in February 2014 under the Companies Act of 2012 as a company limited by guarantee without a share capital. It holds no registration at the NGO Board which is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Considering that URSB is an autonomous statutory body established by Chapter 210 Laws of Uganda in 1998, it is disconcerting to witness how far the government under the lead of the Minister of Internal Affairs is willing to go to brazenly curtail fundamental enabling freedoms.
‘This reprehensible action is an indication of what awaits the civil society if the proposed NGO Bill is passed in its current form’ noted Nicholas Opiyo, Executive Director and Lead Attorney for the Legal Charity Chapter Four Uganda.
This action underscores the spirit in which the current repressive NGO Bill 2015 was drafted. The Bill, inter alia, seeks to grant the NGO Board powers to expressly revoke operation permits of organisations in addition to the overbearing disciplinary powers. It also introduces up to 8 years imprisonment terms for organisation directors and staff, and legislate to provide for abrupt office raids. It further seeks to authorize the NGO Board to dissolve an organisation for essentially any conceivable reason.