Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The High Court Civil Division has declared the indefinite suspension of the activities of Chapter Four Uganda by the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organization as irregular. Justice Musa Ssekaana delivered the verdict in his judgment on Tuesday morning.
He explained the suspension didn’t provide a time frame yet it was intended to allow comprehensive investigations into the operations of Chapter Four Uganda to enable the bureau to determine whether or not to revoke its permit and cancel the registration.
He directed the NGO Bureau to accord Chapter Four a fair hearing and conclusively deal with the issues at hand justly and fairly within a month’s period. The judgement stems from an application filed by Chapter Four Uganda challenging the August 18th, 2021 directive by the NGO Bureau to stop their operations with immediate effect to enable the Bureau to conduct comprehensive investigations into their activities.
In the suspension letter, Stephen Okello, the Executive Director of NGO Bureau explained that Chapter Four Uganda had been closed together with 53 other Non-Governmental Organizations for alleged failure to comply with the legislation regulating their operations. He noted that Chapter Four had failed to submit its returns for the last five years to the Bureau as required prior to its closure.
The NGO Bureau copied the suspension letter to Absa Bank, the Financial Intelligence Authority-FIA, and the Uganda Registration Services Bureau directing them to forthwith halt all the transactions with Chapter Four Uganda. Dissatisfied with the decision, Chapter Four Uganda through its lawyers of AF Mpanga filed an application before the High Court Civil Division for a judicial review.
The NGO Bureau through State Attorneys Charity Nabaasa and Moreen Ijang asked the court to dismiss the case on grounds that all NGOs are required to submit annual returns and declare the sources of their funding, the funds received, estimates of income and expenditure to the NGO bureau and the District Technical Planning Committee.
However, the NGO Bureau argued that Chapter Four had reneged on this responsibility since its registration was contrary to the provisions of the NGO Act as well as the internal governing documents of Chapter Four Uganda. The bureau noted that it gave Chapter Four 30 days from the notice to show cause why their operational permit shouldn’t be revoked in accordance with the law.
The high court set out to determine whether the decision of the Non-Governmental Organization was high-handed, arbitrary, ultra vires and procedurally improper and the available remedies to the parties. They asked the high court to issue a permanent injunction prohibiting the government and its agents from relying on or implementing the aforementioned decision.
In his ruling, the Civil Division High court Judge Musa Ssekaana ruled that the indefinite suspension was irregular. “The power to suspend the permit should be checked with a time frame within, which it must end to check its potential abuse. The action of the respondent in suspending the applicant’s permit indefinitely as noted earlier was within the powers given although it was irregular since it lacked a specific time frame and it was not rationally justified”, said Ssekaana.
Chapter Four Uganda has welcomed the decision, saying that they are looking forward to engaging with the NGO Bureau with a view to resuming their operations as soon as practicable. “We reiterate our commitment to being a principled nonpartisan defender of fundamental human rights and freedoms for all”, said Chapter Four Uganda in its statement.