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NGOs plead with government over frozen bank accounts

Moses Isooba, the Executive Director of National NGO Forum

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT | Civil Society Organizations are asking the government to clear bank accounts of non-government organizations that were frozen close to a month ago.

The frozen accounts were of the National NGO Forum, a membership organization with over 650 organisations and Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), an entity that brings together 20 Women’s Rights Organizations and nine individual activists. They were accused of money laundering and funding subversive activities. 

Moses Isooba, the Executive Director of NGO Forum says the failure to access finances on the accounts has crippled their activities, some of which were related to the ongoing campaigns, and polling day. Ugandans will go to the polls on January 14 to elect a president and Members of Parliament. 

He says they have engaged the Financial Intelligence Authority and the Office of the Directorate of Public Prosecution with no success, thus far, adding that in the absence of funding, many of them will not be able to observe elections. 

Isooba says they are not aware of any charges against them and that the alleged acts of criminality mentioned above are baseless. He faults the government for using administrative procedures to curtail civic organizations. 

Last year, NGOs formed a new coalition, the National Election Watch-Uganda (NEW-U) through which they conducted joint training and observation of the National Resistance Movement primaries in 2020. The plan was to conduct electoral activities jointly as a means to manage both financial and human resource. 

However, the government banned the activities of NEW-U arguing that it was not a registered NGO and that some of its over 40 members lacked operational licenses. But Isooba says the ban on the coalition and freezing of accounts has disorganized their plans and resorted to having all NGOs operate independently.

Patricia Munaabi Babiiha, the Executive Director of the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), a member organization of the two umbrella organizations observes that over the last two months, there has been shrinking space for participation by the citizenry in the politics of the country.

This, she says, is because the closure of accounts of civil society organizations affect programs through which the public exercises their rights like association and organization among others.

Sarah Birette, the Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Governance also a member of NGO Forum and UWONET says, the government has continued to accuse the civil society of working with bad elements in and outside Uganda yet adduced no evidence to prove the line of argument. 

Job Kiija, the Director of Innovations for Democratic Engagements and Action (IDEA) says that the Electoral Commission should re-assure the country that they can deliver a free and fair election at a time when a lot is happening that could affect the legitimacy of the process. 

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