8 Overall conclusions
While spaces exist for many CSOs to participate, the amendment to the legislation in 2006 (NGO Act) was seen by CSOs as undermining the policy of full and meaningful participation. However, in July 2012 the Government announced a new policy which NGO umbrella groups have cautiously welcomed. This policy is not yet law, but it could well improve the climate of the relationship between the two parties and as discussed further below the relationship is in any case seen to be gradually improving.
However, CSOs continue to face many challenges and the present situation is characterised as one where CSOs have difficulties in accessing resources for policy dialogue and in addressing the existing policy gaps. The introduction of a multi-party system of government has led to a polarizing of policy dialogue and debates especially where the issues are controversial. Private sector and commercial interests, especially in the forest sector have led to government decisions bordering on violation of its own policies and laws. The political interests and political interference in some respects has been in conflict with the set regulations, hence also leading to intimidation of CSOs that may oppose the politician’s stand. The three case studies, all provide a basis for the analysis on the enabling environment, CSO strategies on policy dialogue, and the DP strategies for supporting CSOs in Uganda.
The Case Study on Governance and Accountability with a focus on anti-corruption is complex, characterised as a situation where CSOs are struggling to sustain a meaningful level of policy dialogue engagement. On the other hand, in Case Study 2, after more than 30 years of advocacy by CSOs and intense policy dialogue, gender responsive legislation has seen some positive strides in the enactment of key legislation. However, policy dialogue on gender related legislation still remains complex due to the controversial nature of gender equality proposals that are being negotiated on matters such as marriage, divorce, polygamy, cohabitation and property sharing.
Forestry governance related policies and legislation in Uganda, according to Case Study 3 were developed with active participation of CSOs as acknowledged by Government, CSOs and DPs. While the national forestry related policies, frameworks and legislation are seen as very progressive, the major entry point for CSOs policy dialogue has been in monitoring implementation of the practice on the ground, which is a major challenge for all because of the contradictions between policy and practice. Policy dialogue on forestry issues often creates tense scenarios for CSOs, with these organisations being in effect on constant watch to restrain and reign in on Government to stop its own policies being undermined through issuing of licences (some illegal) for the degazettement of forests in favour of commercial interests.
Complex environment but evidence of a positive relationship in certain areas
In spite of the concerns given above, over the last five years there is evidence of CSOs being able to build up a positive relationship with Government, with elements of mutual respect and mutual benefit on invited dialogue spaces, especially in policy formulation and policy implementation. This relationship may well improve as result of the new NGO policy announced in July 2012 (as referred to above). Examples of achievement cited in the study include the enactment of the gender related laws and CSOs participation in several policy processes such as budget monitoring and tracking and development of anti-corruption legislation, discussed under the various case studies.
Even where CSOs have achieved some successes, the situation remains complex and challenging. For example, in the area of gender-related policy dialogue, CSO dialogue has been more relevant and effective due to the Government’s interest in developing a policy related to the protection of women and girls’ rights being to take action to prevent Female Genital Mutilation. Even so the fundamental gender issues still remain controversial and spaces narrow when gender power relations are threatened. Thus, the momentum in policy dialogue built up over the years by gender advocates has been undermined and debate stalled on laws that challenge the power relations and the status quo between men and women in Uganda, especially laws relating to rights in marriage and divorce, economic and property rights. There is continued decline in interest for gender-based dialogue, and attention to gender from Government. For example, the Domestic Relations Bill was withdrawn from the floor of Parliament and fragmented into several laws, including what is now the debate on the Bill on Family Law. Low levels of financing for the gender related programmes have also characterised the situation over the last five years. National policies seemed to have ’drifted away’ with a general feeling that women have realised the level of equality they want through affirmative action in the political arena (women at 30% in Parliament) and that no more action is required. In spite of this, DPs support to gender policy dialogue has been consistent, although with limited national coverage.
Signs of a more ambivalent relationship
There are signs however that the CSOs and the ’political’ Government relationship in the recent past may be becoming increasingly ambivalent. On one side the spaces are characterised by close cooperation and mutual respect in invited spaces and what is seen as safe spaces for discussion of technical policy issues. On the other side characterised by a growing mutual distrust between Government and CSO, with each party questioning the motives of either in policy dialogue, especially in monitoring policy implementation for example in the forestry case study. The legal framework in some areas studied such as Governance and Accountability, is very clear and has numerous laws and acts on anti-corruption, which were developed with participation of CSOs. The Anti-corruption institutions continue to claim openness and commitment to fight corruption, for example the Directorate of Ethics and Integrity (DEI) and the Office of the Inspector General of Government as well as the Parliament through Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Anti-Corruption Coalitions of CSOs have been established in Uganda at National level and Chapters opened at local and regional levels in the districts. CSOs have access to all the spaces in the institutions to contribute to policy dialogue. Parliamentary proceedings continued to provide more democratic space for CSOs to engage and present their voices through them, and provide opportunities for information sharing. The medium of CSOs engagement with parliament has included evidence-based policy briefs to support parliament debate, and dialogue with the various committees of parliament. On the other hand, there is less openness and willingness for MPs to open democratic debate and dialogue on their constant strain on public expenditure through their increase of parliamentary benefits and allowances and emoluments.
While spaces have been open for CSO participation on platforms offered by Government, according to the CSOs, the spaces for dialogue between Government and CSOs are narrowing on issues where CSOs disagree with or strongly criticise government. The controversial issues , raised by the case studies include issues of public spending, political governance for example discussion of presidential term limits, questioning government decisions concerning private sector investments such as in the case of government proposal to degazette and natural forest for a sugar cane plantation. Thus, the most controversial policy dialogue between CSOs and Government has been on issues of forestry governance in the last five years. The legal framework is in place and what is seen as a model for sustainable management of forests, the National Forest Policy 2001, was developed in a consultative and participatory manner. However, since then, the role of CSOs dialogue has been on safeguarding the policy and preventing the abuse of policy by government practices. DPs have been very active in supporting the forestry sector in Uganda, with some CSO support for policy dialogue. The sector has been hit with crises over threats for degazettement of protected forests, deforestation and corruption and commercial interests for plantation agriculture. Forestry sector responsibilities fall in various government Ministries and institutional and agencies such as the National Forestry Authority (NFA), Uganda Wild Life Authority (UWA), the Districts and Ministry of Water and Environment. In the recent past, the major donors for forestry have pulled out of support to the sector due to the institutional challenges faced concerning the governance of the sector. These challenges have also provided opportunities for CSOs to engage in policy dialogue often with contradictions arising out of the conflict between the technical agenda that is not aligned to the political and commercial agendas.
CSOs have become more vocal in demanding for good governance and accountability on social, economic and political governance issues. Because of the constant demands from CSOs for transparency, Government has also increasingly made pronouncements and launched investigations of some CSOs, questioning their motives, and whether CSOs genuinely operate in the interest of Uganda or are agents of foreign parties. Ironically as CSOs increase demands for accountability which would support government to curb the negative practices, the environment of CSO operations is seen by CSOs as becoming more stringent. A key factor influencing CSOs effectiveness discussed in the report is the NGO regulation which CSOs say limits their scope of operation. The regulation is seen by CSOs as restrictive of their freedoms and right to operate freely in the environment. The legal framework has changed to demand for tighter control of CSOs by the NGO Law and regulations, and hence constraining CSO effectiveness. Hence, many CSOs said they had resorted to self-censorship for survival and expressed fear of a scenario where the law could be used against them to curb their operations.
In attempting to sum up the relationship between CSOs and Government it is important to distinguish between civil servants (as technical staff) and the political Government (politicians or staff who are political appointees). The relationship with the former has been and continues to be positive. In the case of the latter, there is more ambivalence, when the Government is criticised on controversial matters, on governance or corruption issues. That said, a number of politicians are pro-CSO and very supportive. It remains a complex relationship.
While some DPs continued to facilitate CSO engagement in policy dialogue, the momentum for CSO support among some DPs was decreased over the last five years due to DP internal funding challenges and changes in funding modalities for development cooperation in the DP countries. Financing channels for policy dialogue in the last five years have changed from individualised support of CSOs to more harmonised support of a select number of CSOs by a select group of DPs. DP support has been targeted on specific priority issues such as monitoring pro-poor policies, governance and human rights issues. The DP strategies were seen by CSOs as having constraining funding modalities, especially with respect to investment in CSOs institutional growth. The funding has been characterised by short-term project support with limited core funding and what is seen by CSOs as a defined agenda, hence reducing CSO opportunities for innovation. CSOs said they mostly received project support, which made CSOs more vulnerable and less likely to have any lasting impact in policy dialogue. Developments in the DP countries and changes in the supported priorities and strategies were said to have constrained CSOs. For example, many DP have downsized their staff to a bare minimum, resulting in less inclination by DPs to work with CSOs directly.
The role of DPs is growing and changing with increased DP harmonisation of strategies has changed from individual forms of CSO support, to joint donor basket funds. More recently in Uganda, the smaller basket funds have merged into very large multi-donor funding facility such as the being the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) discussed earlier in the report. The multi-donor funds now allow for dedicated funds for CSO in the country, and helps CSOs to reduce the administration of working with several donors, as well as avail them of ready funds to implement their programmes. While this is seen as positive by both CSOs and the donors, CSOs also argue that too much donor harmonisation will reduce opportunities for diversification of donor support by CSOs.
The relationship between DPs and CSOs is seen as getting closer, with increasing DP openness to address CSOs disabling factors in the environment such as lack of adequate funding and closing of CSO spaces. The DPs have been responsive on CSO concerns of funding, for example, the major CSOs funding facility recently set up by donors, the DGF will also provide institutional support to CSOs and have more of a programmatic approach rather than a project approach to funding. DPs role in facilitating CSO policy dialogue also included information sharing on policy issues that would facilitative dialogue with government. As seen from the case studies, DPs have also increasingly supported CSOs in raising issues of CSO concern to government in the dialogue spaces that may be closed to CSOs. Some of the issues where DPs have added to voices of CSOs include anti-corruption issues, political and human rights issues and the need to have a facilitative NGO legislation.
This page forms part of the publication 'Support to Civil Society Engagement in Policy Dialogue' as chapter 11 of 19
Version 1.0. 07-01-2013
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/11194/index.htm