Non-governmental organisations in Uganda have to submit financial information including budgets and donor lists to authorities a move rights groups see as another attempt to muzzle criticism.
The government of veteran leader President Yoweri Museveni (74) has long chafed at criticism from NGOs and others of reported excesses including corruption, torture, illegal detentions and extra-judicial killings.
Over the last year several government officials quoted in local media accused Bobi Wine, a musician-turned-legislator who says he will seek the presidency at the next election, of being funded by unnamed foreign agents.
Steven Okello, executive director of state-run National Bureau for NGOs, told Reuters the organisation was undertaking a “verification and validation” exercise for all NGOs in the country including filing financial records.
“We want more information about these organisations, their area of operation. We want also to establish approved budgets, how much it is and who is funding it,” Okello said.
Livingstone Sewanyana, head of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), told Reuters renewed government scrutiny of NGOs was a concern.
“It could have an intimidating effect and have an overall negative impact on civic oversight of the poll,” he said.
A letter on social media showed head of the Financial Intelligence Authority, a government agency tracking and combatting money laundering, writing to a commercial bank requesting financial records of 13 pro-democracy NGOs including FHRI.
Agency head, Sydney Asubo, did not reply to a Reuters call seeking comment, but Sewanyana told Reuters FIA confirmed they were seeking the information.
Government was “introducing unnecessary, unrealistic bureaucratic burdens on NGOs,” said Sara Birete of the Centre for Constitutional Governance.
“Considering the period we are going into, the move becomes suspicious considering what happened in the past.”
In 2017, security personnel raided offices of at least two pro-democracy NGOs including South Africa-based ActionAid, confiscating computers and other equipment, a move critics said was connected to their opposition to legislation allowing Museveni to extend his rule.
Earlier this month, the communications regulator said influential figures on social media and others with commercialised online followings were to be monitored by the state to clamp down on immoral or prejudiced content. Critics said the move was part of a growing campaign to suppress opposition to Museveni.