Africa-Press – Uganda. Government yesterday blacklisted or suspended five non-governmental organisations (NGOs)and announced continuing investigations into activities of several others for alleged forgery and fleecing billions of shillings from unsuspecting beneficiaries, service providers and funders.
In a major crackdown on suspected underhand-dealings in the NGO fraternity, which some activists said could be used as a ruse to justify existing repression against civil society, the government declared that many superintendents of the organisations were not trust-worthy people.
Those named adversely and black-listed yesterday by the National NGO Bureau included Comforter of the Afflicted Formation Home (CAFH) and two faith-based organisations; Agape Sanctuary Ministries International and Christ Alive Glorious Ministries International (CAGMI).
Officials said the decision means the affected organisations will not be able to operate again in the country.
The operations of Equal Opportunities for Women and Children has been suspended indefinitely whereas Global Health Community Empowerment (GHCE) is still being investigated over alleged fraudulent activities.
But the leaders of some of the listed organisations who talked to Daily Monitor, said the government was misled by some “bad” employees of the NGOs and they claimed innocence.
Addressing journalists yesterday at Uganda Media Centre, Mr Stephen Okello, the executive director of the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations, said some leaders of the organisations have been arrested. He did not provide figures. “There are some unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of the NGO sector to defraud their stakeholders,” Mr Okello said.
He added: “The NGO Bureau has instituted investigations into a number of such cases and established that some of the cases involve forgery of NGO Bureau documents being issued to its stakeholders… NGOs are submitting fake/forged documents to the NGO Bureau.”
Mr Okello said the forged documents include permits, certificates of Registration (with Uganda National Registration Bureau), bank recommendations, audited books of account, annual reports, among others.
The documents are submitted as a requirement to register or renew the operating licence or other official purposes. The action against the organisations comes a few months after the government suspended the activities of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), a major funder of Uganda’s big-ticket civil society groups, over the allegation that it was operating without government knowledge and oversight, interfering with Uganda’s sovereignty and undermining government.
The DGF is financed by governments of Denmark, Ireland, Austria, UK, Sweden, Norway and the European Union, with an aim of ensuring equitable growth, poverty eradication, rule of law and long term stability in Uganda.
Its operations remain suspended despite a flurry of behind-the-scenes engagements between donors and Ugandan bureaucrats.
At yesterday’s press conference, the NGO bureau boss said blacklisting and suspending the NGOs followed specific inquiries in the wake of public complaints about the fraudulent activities.
Mr Okello said Agape Sanctuary Ministries accumulated Shs32 billion through illegal award of fake contracts to construction companies to build schools, churches and houses for pastors.
“It was specifically alleged that Agape had obtained money from the contractors in form of bid securities, registration and inspection fees and promised that they would receive payments once they receive funds from their donors,” he said.
He added: “Agape failed to pay the money estimated at Shs32b and yet they had collected around Shs15 million from each contractor.”
We could not independently verify these allegations because officials of the organisation were unreachable on telephone numbers advertised on its facebook page.
Mr Okello said when the NGO Bureau conducted a deeper investigation, they found that Agape didn’t have any foreign donor to bankroll the several construction projects.
In 2019, the government closed more than 12,000 NGOs, which did not show up for the validation exercise. For CAGMI, Mr Okello said the organisation allegedly defrauded a donor, Hope Africa International (HAI), and diverted unspecified amount of funds it received without HAI’s approval.
But Pastor Henry Arapali, the manager of CAGMI, said they did not divert any money and that HAI simply wants to take over their organisation and facilities they worked together to build.
“HAI was supporting us [CAGMI] through some organisation in Kampala for the last six years. They [HAI] came after we had already started our ministries and we were already working with communities, but they helped us to expand the school…and now they want to take over,” he said.
Mr Steven Ojambo, one of the coordinators for CAFH, dismissed the allegation that they are collecting money from beneficiaries across the country as false.
“At Wakiso District, we have around 1,300 needy children that we help to pay their school fees. But we don’t collect money from the children. People who want to be part of the organisation pay registration fee of Shs150,000 and it is that money which we use to support children,” he said.
NGO Forum reacts
Mr Moses Isooba, the head of National NGO Forum, the umbrella body for all NGOs in the country, said the move by government is very important in weeding out criminals who are hiding in the sector and that it has nothing to do with shrinking civil society organisation space.
“NGO Forum takes issues of forgery very seriously because it is criminal and it destroys the credibility of the sector in the country. We didn’t know about the activities of those NGOs who were doing forgery and defrauding people,” he said.It remained unclear how the government’s findings of false accounting, forged documents and fraud will affect considerations of existing or potential overseas funders.
Mr Isooba said the clean up should not be conflated as “shrinking CSO space in the country. But this is to weed out fraudulent individuals and organisations. We can’t condone such activities.”
Comforter of the Afflicted Formation Home (CAFH)
Agape Sanctuary Ministries International-
Equal Opportunities for Women and Children