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National NGO Policy

Article 38 of the Constitution of Uganda 1995 embeds the right of every Ugandan to engage in peaceful activities to influence the policies of Government through civic organizations. Additionally, the Local Government Act 1997 specifically provides Civil Society Organizations (CSOs)-including Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs)-with an important role in service delivery at community level. Furthermore, Government, through its overarching policy framework, the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP), recognizes Civil Society as an important actor and influencer in the promotion of grass root democracy. Specifically, Government fully acknowledges and recognizes the key role NGOs play in improving accountability of public institutions including Ministries, Departments and Agencies, and promoting demand for public services by society generally and marginalized groups in particular.
Under the Non-Governmental Organizations Registration (Amendment) Act 2006, all NGOs must obtain official registration by the National Board for Non-Governmental Organizations (commonly known as the NGO Registration Board), in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, before they can operate in Uganda. Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are required to register with and obtain certification from the District Local Authorities unless they have one or more none Uganda promoters.
The NGO Board is also responsible for monitoring the activities of NGOs across the country. Whilst the NGO Board and the Ministry of Internal Affairs have done a commendable job, especially with respect to registration, their capacity to adequately document, coordinate, monitor and facilitate the diverse activities of a rapidly growing multi-sectoral NGO sector has hitherto been severely limited. There is also need to harmonise more effectively all government policies and regulations in order to provide an enabling environment for the operations of NGO players in a liberalised economy and democratic society.
On their part, NGOs have expressed a level of discontent with what they perceive as overbearing Government regulatory oversight which constrains their freedom of action. NGOs that are engaged in advocacy are particularly sensitive to the quality of the political space provided to enable them carry out their activities. Nevertheless, there is increasing mutual recognition of the need to ensure better coordination of the sector activities with a view to rationalizing and strengthening the functionality of the roles and responsibilities of these Non-State partners in national development.
Whilst the NGO Act addresses the basic legal and regulatory issues, Uganda has lacked a comprehensive policy to guide development of the NGO sector and, hence, facilitate strengthening of NGO relations with Government. In order to promote and foster a more healthy relationship, Government has now formulated a Policy that elaborates a clear vision, objectives and key guiding principles upon which these relations are to be developed and managed. The entry points, in terms of roles, responsibilities, rights and obligations of the various actors are outlined and the mechanisms for periodic review and change management are similarly articulated.
The NGO Policy addresses the key issues and challenges that lie at the centre of developing a responsible relationship between State and Non-State actors in national development. These issues include but are not limited to: definition of NGOs; clarification of mutual roles, responsibilities and expectations of the various actors; capacity for effective coordination and oversight; lack of an adequate and reliable database and up to date information on the NGO sector; lack of transparency and questionable integrity of some NGOs; and the need to ensure appropriate space and freedoms for the operations of NGOs in the country.
The broad aim of the NGO Policy is to set out a framework that strengthens the relationship between the NGO sector and Government and enhance capacities and effectiveness in the areas of service delivery, advocacy and empowerment.
Ultimately, a stronger NGO sector should contribute to the institutionalization of a culture of civic inclusiveness and participation as well as mutual accountability by all stakeholders in the important processes that affect the lives of citizens at different levels.
NGOs are increasingly recognized by governments everywhere as important players in a country’s social, economic, political and intellectual development. NGO activities help to mobilise, sensitize, consult and aggregate citizen interest and action. NGOs can fulfill these roles at three different levels namely: at agenda setting; at policy development; and at policy implementation, monitoring, evaluation and ensuring transparency and accountability in public office. NGOs, as Non-State actors are, therefore, potent and legitimate partners to governments in nation building.
NGOs have operated in Uganda for many decades especially in the health and education sectors. Beyond the above sectors, their activities were focused largely on relief and charity activities. From fairly modest numbers prior to 1986, the sector has seen phenomenal growth since then and currently more than 7,000 NGOs are active in the country. The growth in numbers has been accompanied by growth in influence at different levels of society.
Some NGOs are nationally-based i.e. operate across the country while others only operate in one or a few districts. Some NGOs are involved in multi-sectoral activities while others are mono- sectoral/thematic in their program focus. NGOs are active in the health service activities (HIV/AIDS); education, economic empowerment of communities; agriculture; the environment; water and sanitation; training and capacity building; peace building and conflict resolution.
The range of NGO activities in Uganda has, however, greatly expanded in recent years to include work in the areas of macro policy advice; advocacy on a wide range of issues including human and civic rights, integrity and accountability in public office; good governance and democracy; lobbying and research.
Uganda hosts national, regional and international NGOs. Regional NGOs (RENGOs) are emerging in response to the spirit enshrined in the Treaty for East African Cooperation (EAC). Most of the international NGOs (INGOs) are involved in close collaboration with local NGOs and with some line ministries.
Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) which until now have been obliged to register as NGOs, shall not fall under the ambit of NGO Policy. However, where an FBO is engaged in NGO – type activities as defined herein, the FBO shall be required to comply with the provisions governing the activities of NGOs in Uganda. Until Government takes measures to provide an appropriate separate framework for promoting coordination of the spiritual activities of Faith Based Organizations in the country, the existing arrangements shall obtain.
Likewise, trade unions, microfinance institutions and other social or professional membership associations shall not be covered by the provisions of this policy.