Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Six staff of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) are currently detained at Kira Police Station.
They include Dickens Kamugisha, the Chief Executive Officer, Rachael Amongin, the Assistant Communications Officer and Catherine Twongyeirwe, Finance and AdminIstration Assistant. Also Mercy Nuwamanya, a Front desk officer, and research associates Patrick Edema, and Paul Kato are in detention.
In a media statement dated October 23, Nicholas Bariyo, board member of AFIEGO, says the staff were re-arrested on Friday when they appeared before the station to comply with the terms of their police bond. This after police raided AFIEGO’s head office in Buwate, Kira municipality on October 13 and arrested five staff. They were later released soon after.
“A holding charge of operating without a permit was preferred against them. Police informed the staff that the National Bureau for Non-governmental organisations (NGO Bureau) had ordered for the arrest of AFIEGO staff,” says Bariyo.
He however says the staff should be released because one of them is a breastfeeding mother while another is sick and has been on treatment.
Luke Owoyesigire, the Kampala Metropolitan Police Deputy spokesperson confirmed that the six staff have been detained for allegedly operating without a permit. He adds that Kamugisha was arrested for the first time on Friday while the rest were re-arrested because they are under investigation. “The police will either release them on bond or arraign them in court,” said Owoyesigire said, without giving a time frame for either actions.
This comes months after the NGO Bureau suspended the operations of 54 NGOs including AFIEGO.
In August, Stephen Okello, the Executive Director of the NGO Bureau said investigations showed that 23 NGOs are operating with expired permits, 15 failed to file annual returns and audited books of accounts while 16 were operating without registering with the bureau.
The NGO Act requires all NGOs to register with the NGO Bureau, acquire and renew their permits annually to continue operations and also file their annual and audited books of account with the NGO Bureau. The Bureau is mandated to register, regulate, monitor, inspect, coordinate and oversee all NGO operations in the country.
Okello said the NGOs have been non-complaint and hence ordered that they halt their operations immediately. AFIEGO’s operations were halted because it did not have a valid permit. The bureau issues 5-year permits and they must be renewed six months before they expire.
Section 32 of the NGO Act, 2016 provides that any organisation that continues to operate after the expiry of its permit will pay shillings two million for every month of operation in default of renewal of its permit.
However, Allan Bariyo, a lawyer representing AFIEGO, argues that the police have acted illegally because the NGO Act, 2016 does not provide a penalty for staff of entities who do not have a valid permit.
He explains further that AFIEGO is registered as a non-profit company and thereby regulated by the Uganda Registration Services Bureau under the Companies Act, 2012.
“AFIEGO is not an NGO. It is a company. But AFIEGO staff do not constitute the non-profit company, a legal entity of its own that can sue and be sued. To be arrested for operating without a permit was therefore irregular,” Bariyo says.
“So police is hiding these people from court because the charge against them cannot stand in court,” he adds, “But if police thinks it has a good case, it should produce them in court and we defend them.”
As a result, he says he has been instructed to file an application for unconditional release of the detainees at the Kira Magistrates Court on Monday, October 25.
Nicholas Bariyo, a board member says “there is a coordinated effort to silence critical voices that speak out against the destruction of the environment and the abuse of oil project-affected communities’ rights.”
He adds that AFIEGO is the leader of the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) in advocating for the protection of Bugoma forest from land grabbing, oil and sugarcane challenges and has also been demanding the government to compensate the people affected by the East Africa Crude Oil pipeline (EACOP) project.
According to the Resettlement Plan, a total of 3,792 people will be affected by the project between Kabaale to the Uganda-Tanzania border. The pipeline will run for 296km, traversing ten districts that cover 171 villages.
The compensation, estimated to cost a total of shillings 65 billion, has stalled since 2018 due to complaints from affected persons and civil society organisations over rates, poor communication and also the challenges of holding stakeholder engagements after the outbreak of COVID-19.