By Haggai Matsiko
Mutebile letter to commercial banks upsets NGOs involved in oil advocacy
Plot 86 on Kanjokya Street in Kamwokya, a Kampala city suburb, is quiet block with a few latest model SUVs crammed into its tiny parking space. It’s the nondescript home of the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), which is possibly Uganda’s leading think tank on anything from oil, to sugar pricing and good governance. At helm sits Godber Tumushabe, a voluble stocky executive director, with an opinion on everything.
Perhaps nobody cared much for Tumushabe’s verbosity until February when he hosted a gathering of over 300 councilors from all over the country under their National Local Government Councilors Association (NALCA).
Tumushabe and ACODE have been involved with local governance issues and he has written expansively about them for some. This time, however, sources that preferred anonymity told The Independent that important figures in President Yoweri Museveni’s government concerned.
“It seems this gathering attended by opposition leader Nandala Mafabi, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and Trade Minister Kahinda Otafiire, rubbed people the wrong way,” the official told The Independent, “they think the organisation is going too far.”
A few weeks later, The Independent got a copy of a leaked letter from the Governor Bank of Uganda, Emmanuel Tumusiime Mutebile to all commercial banks to avail details of ACODE’s accounts.
In the unusual letter dated March.16, the central bank noted that it “suspected” ACODE “to be engaged in suspicious transactions” and ordered all financial institutions to provide it with particulars related to the organisations accounts not later than March.21.
An insider on this issue who declined to be identified intimated to The Independent that some of the banks had already furnished the central bank with the information.
“They seem to be interested in what level of funding that ACODE is getting and from whom,” the official who is privy to the move told The Independent.
Jan Tibamwenda, the central bank spokesperson told The Independent that such requests are “common practice in the banking system to ensure financial stability.”
“If our attention is brought to transactions of certain accounts by other commercial banks or security agencies, we will be interested to investigate and see whether things are in order,” he told The Independent.
But ACODE’s executive director is suspicious of the central bank’s working behind his back. He says if the central bank wanted information, it should have sought that information directly from ACODE as well.
“We are an organisation that is run so transparently and would be willing to volunteer such information if BoU came to us,” he said, “but we think our problem is our success as a vibrant policy think tank and advocacy organisation. We can only say that this is coming from our advocacy work on oil and governance because our financials are clear and everybody can witness.”
Dickens Kamugisha, who heads Africa Institute for Energy Governance, (AFIEGO), which has several partnerships with ACODE, says the central bank move is part of a wider ploy to stifle civil society activity in Uganda.
Tibamwenda denies it and denies allegations by another official at the central Bank that after ACODE, BoU plans to investigate other NGOs that they suspect of being used by foreigners to channel funds meant for “destabilising the government”.
Earlier this year, when President Museveni addressed parliament about his secretive oil deals, he attacked the civil society for “pursuing the agenda of foreigners”.
“Who is civil society, is civil society a group of individuals working for foreign governments?” Museveni asked angrily.
Just a few days after BoU issued the ACODE letter, President Museveni warned European diplomats on March 28 to stop recruiting politicians and government officials to spy for them.
Museveni said he has information that diplomats invite young Members of Parliament; give them funds that are not reported either in Parliament or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“This is corruption, if they get money which they don’t declare … If you get money from foreign sources and don’t declare to IGG, Parliament or police, you are not only corrupt, but an agent,” A press release quoted Museveni.
Critics say that since Uganda discovered oil, it has increasingly revealed its formerly disguised authoritarian tendencies.
Kamugisha of AFIEGO says the government cannot imagine that Members of Parliament who have put it on the spot over oil governance issues could mount such a campaign without help from NGOs.
“They think it is the NGOs that are facilitating MPs to frustrate the government over oil issues. And with the money involved, anyone seen to attempt to delay oil production is seen as an enemy,” Kamugisha said, that is why they are now collecting information and looking out for any opportunity to shut down NGOs.”
He says, under new NGO laws, the government wants to have the powers to deregister NGOs.He says former Energy Minister, Hillary Onek used to say publicly that NGOs had no business with oil and that their role should stop at looking after orphans.
Just after Onek left, the Energy ministry Kabagambe Kallisa issued a directive that for any NGO to do advocacy or research in the Albertine rift, they must first get clearance from the ministry.
But despite honoring this directive, some activists have been victims.
In August 2011, a civil society worker, Isaac Nkuuba was arrested, three journalists have been arrested and NGOs like Green Watch Uganda have also been denied access to the region, activists say.
In the latest move, Nakawa High Court on March.28 dismissed an application by four civil society organisations (CSOs) seeking to be joined in an appeal case to compel government make public the oil Production Sharing Agreements it signed with oil exploration companies.
Journalists, Mwanguhya and Izama filed their appeal in 2010 after losing in their application to the Magistrates Court.
The NGOs had sought to join them as friends of court but controversial Justice Faith Mwondha threw them out saying they were biased and not independent friends of court and that they intended to bring new evidence in the appeal to support the appellants which is not allowed in law.
James Nangwala, the applicant’s lawyer told a local newspaper that the judge erred in her judgment when she demanded details of the brief that applicants wanted to present in the first place.
After examining all scenarios, a civil society activist told The Independent that the central bank letter about ACODE is a signal to other NGOs: “If you don’t check your ways, you are in trouble.”