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4 Key aspects of an enabling environment

4.1 Introduction

This chapter focuses on the enabling environment for CSO engagement in policy dialogue, and describes the major legal and political context as well as the factors affecting their engagement in policy dialogue. For “civil society to flourish it requires a favourable enabling environment, which depends upon the actions and policies of all development actors – donors, governments and CSOs themselves.” [52] For the purpose of this evaluation we understand the ’enabling environment’ as one of the key parameters defining the space for policy dialogue, opportunities and challenges within which CSOs participate.

The chapter identifies the enabling environment factors that have affected CSO engagement in policy dialogue.

4.2 Legal and political environment

Constitution: Uganda has a comprehensive legal and institutional framework for citizen participation in policy formulation, enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 and in subsequent legislation such as the Local Government (Amendment Act) 1997.[53] The Constitution spells out the mandate of CSOs to participate and influence policy formulation on behalf of the citizens. Article 38(1) provides that “Every citizen has a right to participate in the affairs of Government, individually or through his or her representative in accordance with the law.” Article 38(2) further provides that “Every Ugandan has a right to participate in peaceful activities to influence the policies of Government through civic organisations”. The Constitution sets out the obligations of citizens in holding government accountable. Article 17(i) of the Constitution provides that “It is the duty of every citizen of Uganda to combat corruption, misuse and abuse of public office.”

Decentralisation Policy: Article 176 of The Constitution (as amended) 1995 provides that The system of local government in Uganda shall be based on the district as a unit under which there shall be such lower local government and administrative units as Parliament may by law provide. 176 (2) provides that the following principles shall apply to the local government system. When the Constitution was enacted in 1995 there were 39 districts increasing to 112 in 2010. To give effect to the decentralisation policy and the provisions of the Constitutions that oblige them to consult with citizens, Section 35(1) of the Local Government (Amendment) Act 1997 provides that The District Council shall be the planning authority of the District”. Section 25(2) provides that “The District Council shall prepare a comprehensive and integrated development plan incorporating plans of lower level local government for submission to the National Planning Authority, and lower Local Governments shall prepare plans incorporating plans of lower Councils in their respective areas of jurisdiction.” In practice, however, very little consultation is undertaken to collect the views and priorities of the citizen at the grass roots. The creation of districts poses a challenge for both public expenditure management and for availing technical, human resources to delivery services effectively.[54] It leads to the multiplication of counties, sub-counties and parishes. Given that the districts are dependent on the central Government for over 90% of their resources, small, under-resourced districts have challenges coping with service provision.

The Access to information Act 2005: In 2005 Parliament enacted the ’Access to Public Information Act’ whose purpose among others is to: a) promote an efficient, effective, transparent and accountable government; b) promote transparency and accountability in all organs of the state by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information; and c) empower the public to effectively scrutinise and participate in government decisions that affect them. Article 41(1) provides that Every citizen has a right to access information in the possession of the state or any other organ one agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any person. In spite of the provisions of the Act, CSOs believe that access to information is still a bureaucratic hurdle which is lengthy and costly. For instance, applicants are required to pay UGX 20,000 to file an application requesting information.[55] This would tend to deter poor citizens from accessing information at local level and impede their participation in decision making.

The CSO landscape and relationship with Government

The CSOs landscape presents what is seen as a mixed picture, however, with an “overall intense level of CSO activity.[56] CSOs in Uganda range from community organisations, coalitions and networks on thematic issues or geographical location, faith-based organisations, political and social organisations and more recently the cultural institutions and other forms of organising. A study by DENIVA reveals that CSOs are constituted by a large number of “community groups in form of CSOs such as NGO Networks, Coalitions, Trade Unions and other forms of collaborative bodies” such as urban based professional groups.[57] Other organisations which actively engaged in policy dialogue include the Private Sector Associations, Lawyers Associations, Teachers Associations, Women Doctors Association, Media Women Association and to a limited extent, the Journalists Association.

Citizen participation in CSOs, according to the study, appears extreme, characterised by membership of community and mutual help groups.[58] The same study points out that “volunteering to CSOs is prevalent” among the population, with reasons “linked to Uganda’s history of civil strife and repressive regimes”. The study, however, points out that this may not “necessarily mean an activist political environment”. The CSO relationship with government is seen as ambivalent, with both seeing their role as collaborative rather than confrontational (DENIVA: 2006). Moreover, the study observes that government contracts CSOs to deliver services at district level. According to the study, CSOs strengths are recognised, which include proximity to the beneficiaries, competent staff and diverse skills that are offered to the community. Advocacy is seen as increasingly becoming recognised by government as a legitimate area of work by CSOs.[59] However, it is observed that advocacy work is also highly donor driven (Ibid), and the CSOs highly donor dependent. Government, according to the study has remained ambivalent on what constitutes allowable advocacy activities for CSOs, especially when they ’stray’ into what is seen as the political arena (DENIVA 2006). According to the study findings, the environment for CSOs is more disabling than enabling, especially in areas of political and civil rights, information rights, and press freedom. The study notes however that ’trilateral meetings’ are regularly held between DPs, CSOs and Government.

4.3 Challenges in the enabling environment

The challenges for CSOs engagement in policy dialogue in Uganda mainly relate to the legal framework, which according to CSOs threatens CSOs operations through salient and ambiguous clauses. For example, while the policy framework allows for CSO participation in government processes, especially at a technical level, and while the government has not actively applied the negative legal provisions, provisions of the overarching law and policy governing the NGO operations has led to self-censorship by CSOs. According to the CSOs, a number of laws (see next chapter) cause the greatest fear for CSOs that Government could use them to curtail CSO operations in policy dialogue.

Ambiguous and controlling clauses in the Laws

CSOs worry about the enactment and implementation of a series of legislations proposed by Government that might affect their work. The clauses in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002, are ambiguous and put immense power in the hands of security officers. For example, Section 7(2) states that “a person commits an act of terrorism who for purposes of influencing the government or intimidating the public or section of the public and for a political or religious or social or economic aim or who ...”[60] CSOs have challenged this section as subject to various interpretations which could be used to intimidate CSOs engaged in policy dialogue to influence Government.[61] A petition was filed by CSOs in the Constitutional Court in April 2009 to challenge the Act. According to HURINET, the act is likely to be used to punish critical CSOs that challenge or question the policy decisions of Government or the violations of human rights by government agencies. Other legislation with implications and a threat to citizen freedoms and rights, which CSOs have advocated against include i) The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2010 and the HIV/AIDS Control Bill 2009. Another proposed law feared is the Public Order Management Bill, 2009 which poses serious challenges to Ugandans in the exercise of their fundamental freedoms and human rights of assembly and association, guaranteed by the 1995 Constitution and in several regional and international human rights instruments. Likewise The press and Journalists (Amendment) Bill 2010, has limits on the freedom of speech. It has been described by Amnesty International in the following manner:

“The Press and Journalist (Amendment) Bill 2010 contains wide-ranging and ill-defined powers enabling the authorities to revoke the license of a media organisation if it publishes material deemed to be “prejudicial to national security, stability and unity,” or which is “injurious to Ugandan relations with new neighbours or friendly countries;” causes “economic sabotage” or breaches any of the conditions imposed by the license.”[62]

Contradictions in the laws, and Government perception of CSOs

In 2008 Uganda Government, through the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and with the support of the European Union embarked on developing an NGO Policy. The policy was approved by Cabinet and became operational in 2010. The broad aim of the NGO Policy is to set a framework, that strengthens the relationship between the NGO sector and Government and enhance capacities and the effectiveness in the areas of service delivery, advocacy and empowerment….ultimately, a stronger NGO sector should contribute to the institutionalisation 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”.

While the NGO Policy was developed in consultation with CSOs in Uganda, all CSOs interviewed complained that their proposals and suggestions were largely ignored. The major concern for CSOs is that the NGO registration in Uganda is still seen as a security issue. For example, while the NGO Policy was spearheaded by the OPM, the NGO Registration Board is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs which is responsible for the police, prisons and immigration departments. This would tend to suggest that government views NGOs as a security matter, while the OPM which is the leader of Government Business and Coordinates all government ministries sees them as a development vehicle. Ironically, the government defines NGOs as “any legally constituted, private voluntary grouping of individuals or associations involved in community work which augment government work but clearly not for profit”.[63] This contradiction is at the centre of the controversial NGO Registration (Amendment) Act 2006 Cap. 13.

In 2006 Parliament enacted the NGO Registration (Amendment) Act 2006, which is contested by the CSOs because the provisions are seen as constraining CSOs operating environment. Under the law, NGO Registration Statute 1989, the mandate for registration of the NGOs lies with the NGO Registration Board under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Internal Security). CSOs also argue that the composition of the NGO Registration Board[64] according to the Statute has mainly representatives from the intelligence agencies, Internal Security Organisation (ISO) and External Security Organisation (ESO). CSOs lodged a petition in the Constitutional Court in 2009 challenging the provisions of the act as a violation of constitutional rights, which has not yet been heard.[65] NGOs in their Consolidated NGO Memorandum for the Review of the NGO Act expressed concern that: “Regulations providing for District and sub-county NGO monitoring Committee which is composed of security organs,”…will continue to enforce the fear that government continues to look at NGOs as a security threat …and considers such provisions as disturbing aspects of the NGO policy and NGO Law in Uganda.”[66]

Government nominated a new NGO board, which is seen as more friendly to CSOs. Through the new board, Government is making inroads to open dialogue on NGO policy. However, according to CSOs, Government’s commitment is still in question. More so because the NGO Board is under-resourced and does not have the capacity to reach out and monitor all CSOs and their activities. This has led to mutual suspicion about transparency and accountability between government and CSOs.

While the CSO burden of regulation may be due to mutual suspicion between Government and CSOs that has led to stringent provisions in the NGO Amendment Act (2006), the regulation challenges in Uganda are not only peculiar to the CSO sector alone. According to a study of sixteen sectors on government business licensing, the administrative burden of complying with licensing requirements represents 3.49% of GDP or UGX 725.5 billion annually (About USD 300 million of which 57% is fees and 43% administration burden).[67] The study reveals that Uganda has 87 licensing laws and 174 regulations, and 18 steps for formalising a business. Many CSOs and NGOs are registered by the same regulations – both as business companies limited by guarantee under the Company Act and with the NGO Registration Board using the NGO Registration Statute.

A complex political environment

Uganda has since 2006 been governed under the multi-party political dispensation.[68]

The opposition is very much a minority and relatively weak. Under multi-party dispensation, agreements are made and agendas set in party caucuses that are not accessible by CSOs. The scenario tends to limit the space and independence of the CSOs and limits them in their operations as their agenda may be misunderstood as partisan depending on who supports it. The CSOs’ involvement in policy dialogue and advocacy that involved monitoring government performance has meant that they may be misunderstood as sympathisers of the opposition or advancing the agenda of the opposition, especially if they are too critical of Government.

Furthermore, there are still challenges among politicians in learning to agree on issues even within different parties. CSOs agenda on policy dialogue is often misunderstood hence some CSOs have seen the use of obstructive tactics to restrict full freedom of association. The role of CSOs in politics is also contested and misunderstood by political parties. CSOs are criticised for overlapping views and interests with political parties, for example the “claim to be a conduit for aggregating citizens’ interests” and “the role they both play in holding Government accountable” [69] is questioned. The paper suggests that CSOs can reduce the overlap between CSOs and political parties in two ways. One way is to reduce unnecessary polarisation and antagonism. The underlying aim and objectives of both and how this defines the nature of their actions and interest aggregation in the policy process may be different. Political party interests on the other hand aim at “fault seeking to gain advantage over the ruling power”. Secondly, comparison of the comparative advantage of political parties and CSOs indicates that CSOs champion “participatory approaches” and may be “better positioned to generate citizen’s views and target specific policy making agencies in government”, while political parties “seek to govern the whole political parity” (UNGO Forum, 2007).

CSOs at the local level have expressed ambivalence on the role of Local Government Officials in the control and direction of what CSOs can and cannot do. In January 2012, two NGOs in Karamoja sub-region, BRAC and Samelian Purse were banned from operating in the sub-region by the local government officials under unclear circumstances.[70]

In an interview with one of the Local CSOs in Soroti, it was noted also that the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of the one of the districts had a habit of ’talking ill’ of the CSOs in the local media. Another RDC in a separate district had started issuing his own registration certificate to CSOs which is not provided for under the NGO registration. The CSOs responded by refusing to invite him to their functions and activities.[71]

4.4 Economic and social environment

Issues of donor funding

Some observers cite donor funding as a contributory factor in reducing the importance of CSOs as significant players in the country. According to the Uganda NGO Forum analysis, Donors have mainly promoted the proliferation of two types of NGO/CSOs (UNGOF, 2007).[72] Firstly, advocacy organisations that are mainly “urban based and elite run and managed, formed by individuals often exclusively run by them, most vocal on policy and occasionally in the political arena”. According to the view, this type of CSO is preoccupied with “advocacy on all sorts of issues in governance, including human rights, anti-corruption, poverty eradication, children, women, environment etc”. The second type of CSOs that has been popular for donor support is the Membership Network or Professional Association type of NGO, with membership of either individuals or NGOs in the first category. The Networks also tend to be pre-occupied with thematic issues such as education, children, women, agriculture or may be broad base focused. The paper argues that DPs and INGOs have shied away from supported “political oriented CSO groups”, in preference for “technocratic policy processes and the dynamic of relating with the state summed up in the rhetoric of ’partnership”.[73] Hence, the paper argues that in order to maintain the ’comfort zone’ of donor funding, the CSOs have remained politically disengaged and insignificant.

The funding terrain

The funding terrain in Uganda has also been changing. DP support in Uganda has mainly been through bilateral arrangements with the Government which gets the bulk of DP funds through various modalities such as general budget support (now reducing), sector support and project support. DPs have a small percentage of their support going to CSOs in different thematic areas. CSO support is characterised as being short-term project support with limited or no core funding and with a defined agenda. The increasing demand for Value for Money and the economic challenges in DP countries has also meant that DPs have to cut costs of delivery, and hence, have less inclination to work with CSOs directly. As part of the rationalisation process, there is now a tendency for increased DP harmonisation of strategies allowing for establishment of CSO funding ’baskets’ or facilities with a clearly defined agenda.

CSO governance and self-regulation

Although Uganda has over 10,000 officially registered NGOs, the exact number of operational NGOs is not known.[74] Because of the large numbers and spread of locations, CSOs and NGOs are difficult for the under-resourced Government NGO Board to monitor. The sector faces criticism from Government and some sections of the public because of the behaviour of a minority of CSOs which have been implicated in corruption. For example, a number of NGOs were involved in the misuse and diversion of funds for the Global Fund for Malaria and TB.

CSOs also face criticism over their credibility and people may question their mandate to represent the citizens of Uganda. Two main coordinating bodies, the National NGO Forum and DENIVA are membership umbrella CSOs that have some links to their members. Led by the two coordinating bodies, DENIVA and NGO Forum, CSOs adopted a Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM) to help govern the integrity of CSOs/NGOs.

Provisions of QuAM require subscribing CSOs to adhere to a set of good governance and accountability principles to improve relationships with decision makers and local leaders. The QuAM established a set of minimum standards;[75] however, it is a voluntary undertaking with no enforcement mechanism in place. The QuAM does not enjoy the support of most national networks that are not members of DENIVA or NGO Forum which diminishes it value and effectiveness. The discussions with national networks during this study revealed that CSOs were not obliged to mention how they relate with the QuAM. Neither are the CSOs obliged to sign up to the QuAM minimum standards. Most CSOs do not have common criteria for maintaining values and agreed standards, and cannot be regulated by the QuAM.


[52] OECD 2010: Civil society effectiveness.

[53] Article X of the National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy of the Republic of Uganda Constitution 1995 provides that “The State shall take all the necessary steps to involve the people in the formulation and implementation of the development plans and programmes which affect them.”

[54] It is estimated that with the current creation of districts, the number will continue to increase, and Uganda Parliament has over 360 Members of Parliament. Each district has a woman representative, a district Chairperson and councillors. Each district is supposed to have a district hospital yet some sub-counties do not yet have a health centre III. Each sub-county is supposed to have at least one secondary school and technical vocation school. Yet some sub-counties lack fully equipped and staffed primary schools.

[55] Interview with Patrick Mwine, HURINET Programme Officer for Advocacy, Research and Communication.

[56] DENIVA 2006, CIVICUS Civil Society Index Report.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Anti-Terrorism Act 2012, Section 7 (2).

[61] HURINET, Quick Analysis of Uganda’s Anti Terrorism Act 2002.

[62] Amnesty International: (http://www.freemedia.at/regions/africa/singleview/4844/)

[63] Definition by the Uganda Ministry of Internal Affairs: http://www.mia.go.ug/pagex.php?p=reg_local.

[64] The NGO Registration Board has 14 Statutory Representatives and none is an NGO/CSO.

[65] The hearing of the petition has been postponed twice because the Constitutional Court lacked quorum in both cases. New dates for the hearing are yet to be fixed.

[66] These views are contained in the NGO Memorandum titled “Towards a Supportive Legal Environment for Publicly Accountable NGOs in Uganda: A Consolidated NGO Memorandum for the Review of the NGO Act CAP 113 (as Amended). Submitted, June 2011.

[67] MFPED, Report on Uganda Business Licensing Reforms, By Business Licensing Reform Committee of Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, March 2012.

[68] The return to multi-party politics came after 20 years under a non-party system of National Resistance Movement (NRM), which later registered the party as the NRM party. Since 2011 elections, the ruling party has 316 MPs and the opposition has about 59 out of a total of 375 parliamentarians.

[69] Uganda NGO Forum, Civil Society and Politics, A Niche for Civil Society Organisations in the Revived Multi-party political System in Uganda, 2007, Working Paper No.1, Arthur Larok.

[70] The Act by the Local Council alleged that the CSOs have no evidence to show on the ground from their activities.

[71] Stakeholder interview, Soroti District.

[72] Uganda NGO Forum, Civil Society and Politics, A Niche for Civil Society Organisations in the Revived Multi-party political System in Uganda, 2007, Working Paper No.1, Arthur Larok.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Ministry of Internal Affairs: http://www.mia.go.ug/pagex.php?p=reg_local

[75] NGO Regulating themselves: The NGO Quality Assurance Mechanism (QuAM), DENIVA and NGO Forum. Among the guiding principles are the following:

  1. The NGO is registered with the National NGO Registration Board or, in the case of an NGO network, it is either registered with the NGO Board or with the relevant district authorities. The candidate NGO will be able to produce an up-to-date registration certificate or evidence showing that renewal of a certificate has been solicited and is pending.
  2. Has written and shared vision, mission/goal, objectives and values (or equivalent).
  3. Has an office and address.
  4. Has a development-oriented, non-partisan agenda, fostering citizens’ rights.
  5. Has laid-down governance and reporting structures, with am governing body whose members meet regularly as a governing body whose members are regularly appointed or elected, in accordance to its constitution and generally accepted practices.
  6. Actively avoids any conflict of interest among members, staff, and board members.
  7. Does not condone any misconduct by its members, staff, and or board members.
  8. The involvement of the members in its policy-making processes.
  9. Adheres to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and Standards.
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