The Government of Uganda, through the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA) has written to Equity Bank Uganda, ordering the commercial institution which is now in dilemma, to disclose financial details of 13 Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) that have been critical of government especially on its political and human rights records.

The NGOs targeted by government through the FIA are; Action Aid International Uganda, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda, Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring, Ant-Corruption Coalition Uganda, National-Non-Governmental Organization Forum, Human Rights Network Uganda, National Democratic Institute.

Others targeted are; Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Democratic Governance Initiative, Kick Corruption out of Uganda, National Association of Professional Environmentalists and African Institute for Energy Governance.

FIA Executive Director in his letter dated August 8, 2019 to Equity Bank Uganda says, his agency is reviewing certain transactions involving accounts of entities mentioned above.

“The purpose of this communication therefore is to request you search your databases and avail us account opening documents, bank statements for the last three years and any other information available to you linked to each of the above listed entities for our future review,” Asibo said.

An official from Equity Bank said management was consulting their legal team on the latest directive from the FIA. “We are discussing the issue with our legal team on the way forward,” he said when asked if the bank has complied with the directive.

This is not the first time NGOs are being asked to reveal their accounts details. In October 2017, about 25 non-governmental organisations were asked to provide financial information to their regulator, the NGO bureau.

State minister for Internal Affairs Obiga Kania said then that while NGOs are by law required to declare their funds to Bank of Uganda (BoU), government had realised that they under-declare and spend more money on what he called “subversive” activities, including laundering.

During that year five bank accounts belonging to the charity, ActionAid Uganda in Standard Chartered bank were frozen by BoU on orders of government.

BoU  said then that the police were investigating ActionAid Uganda for alleged conspiracy to commit a felony and money laundering. But the NGO community said then the claims were unfounded and were only are part of a witch-hunt targeting NGOs for political reasons.

Action Aids Uganda country director, Arthur Larok said in a statement then that: “We would like the public to treat the allegations against ActionAid with the contempt it deserves. We shall push back, together with our numerous partners the sad trend in our country that the allegations against ActionAid optimise.”

Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, said then that his organisation and were asked to produce their financials to the bureau detailing their sources of income.

“This is even when most [of us] have updated our details already submitted to the bureau,” Ssewanyana said.

Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies and Uhuru Institute were searched by police recently and some of their files taken.

Ssewanyana said then that: “This shows a backlash characterised by suppression of freedom of expression, association and assembly. NGOs pose a major threat to the undemocratic practices of government. That is why they have become prime targets of the armed forces and other government agencies.”

In the recent years, government has come up with several measures to narrow the space in which NGOs and human rights organisations operate. The NGO Act, 2016 was seen as one such a measure to restrict their operations.

The searches and demand for financial details are all part and parcel of a larger plot to stifle NGOs’ participation,” said Ssewanyana.

There have also been a number of break-ins at different organisations where their files and computers have been taken. Police promises to investigate but there have been no reports made public.