Government has launched an investigation against 13 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and demanded details of their bank accounts to review their sources of funding and other transactions.
All the organisations under investigation are those whose activities cover mainly sectors of governance, rule of law and human rights issues and fighting corruption. They are being investigated by the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA).
The organisations include ActionAid International Uganda; Citizens' Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU); Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring; Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda; Uganda National NGO Forum and Human Rights Network Uganda.
Others are: National Democratic Institute, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS); Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI); Democratic Governance Facility (DGF); Kick Corruption Out of Uganda; National Association of Professional Environmentalists and Africa Institute for Energy Governance.
Mr Sydney Asubo, the FIA executive director, on Thursday last week wrote to Equity Bank managing director asking him to provide financial details of the NGOs' accounts for the last three years.
"The purpose of this communication, therefore, is to request you to 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 further review," the letter reads in part.
Mr Asubo confirmed the investigation but remained cagey about the details.
But a source privy to the investigations at FIA said all the banks have been asked to provide similar information about the named civil society organisations.
The letter has triggered speculation that government is cracking the whip on NGOs it deems critical of the State's human rights violations, rampant corruption, abuse of office and poor governance records.
Critics also say government is deliberately targeting such organisation deemed critical ahead of the 2021 general election.
Ms Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, said while FIA is legally mandated to perform its investigative duties, the motive of choosing the said organisations as a target for investigations appears suspicious.
"The NGOs that are being targeted are doing a particular work that the government is not conformable with. When you look at that list, you don't see any of those that are involved in service delivery. The target seems to point to a particular group that is doing particular work, which government thinks is against the current regime. What government is doing is trying to sanitise their hidden agenda using the law," she charged.
Mr Richard Ssewakiryanga, the executive director of National NGO Forum, expressed surprise at the investigations. He said FIA, which knows better how to deal with NGOs, chose the wrong approach.
"I am surprised because they know the right procedure of contacting us. The best procedure would have been to contact the NGO Bureau, which is mandated to inspect and work with NGOs and the bureau would then write to us and we would have provided all the information that is required," he said.
Mr Frank Muramuzi, the executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists, wondered why the investigations are targeting particularly NGOs that probe government excesses.
Mr Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of Africa Institute of Energy Governance, wondered why the State has launched the investigations at this time. He said they are always open to anyone and wondered why government would choose to write to the banks, instead of directly contacting the NGOs for the information.
Mr Xavier Ejoyi, the executive director of ActionAid Uganda, said the direction government is taking on NGOs should worry everyone. He said his organisation has suffered several break-ins by security forces and its office equipment taken without any explanation given.