Non-state actors yesterday cautiously welcomed new stringent government rules to regulate employment and remuneration in the NGO sector, raising questions about its motive and timing during nervy relations between the two bodies.
Mr Richard Ssewakiryanga, the chairperson of the Uganda NGO Forum, said demands by the State that local and international organisations operating in the country hire foreigners only when no Ugandan has the necessary skills for a given job, is justified.
“It is useful to make sure Ugandans are employed in Uganda,” he said, adding: “Like is the practice in other countries, if you want to hire an expatriate, you must show why.”
But in what officials have described as a purging of the sector, the government through the NGO Registration Board has issued guidelines, which, among other things, require licensed NGOs to give priority to qualified Ugandans during staff recruitment, weeding out quacks.
This follows allegations of discrimination and dehumanising treatment at the work place of local employees, who, even when more qualified, are deployed as subordinates and paid less than their foreign counterparts.
A number of such expatriates have been reported to be either unqualified or under-qualified yet they work as supervisors without permits.
Daily Monitor broke the news of the tougher guidelines yesterday, attracting heated discussions among online readers. A majority sided with the new position, which one contributor described as an “achievement of the century” if implemented.
“I wish the government had thought about this long time ago, but we are grateful it is finally out,” wrote Boniface. Another reader who signed post as Sam Mayanja, noted: “It’s a good idea to protect unemployed educated Ugandans [at the] expense of foreigner.”
The country is presently grappling with its worst unemployment crisis, particularly of graduates, and officials hope ring-fencing some jobs would offer a respite, however temporary. Some experts, however, warn that the move could boomerang.
In a comment posted on the Daily Monitor website, Mr Sam Bakubye, who describes himself as a human resource professional currently working outside Uganda, wrote: “I find the efforts quite laughable! We must remember that labour is like any commodity on the market. We cannot talk of liberalising the economy; inviting investors or partners and at the same time make it difficult for labour to freely move.”
Amb. Gabriel Kangwagye, the chairman of the NGO Registration Board, had said they are coming out strongly on the NGOs because they solicit money with the aim of helping the underprivileged, unemployed, and thus cannot turn around to monopolise jobs they create.
“Otherwise, they should set up commercial enterprises,” he said. “If you go to the North and West Nile, it’s more like a dumping ground [for unqualified foreign nationals].”
Action Aid Country-Uganda Director Arthur Larok, who has a vast knowledge and experience about the NGO community, told this newspaper that the new rules are appealing “from the face value”, but should not blind citizens from demanding that the government they pay taxes to provides jobs and quality services.
“We have a leadership crisis in this country; we are being mismanaged and Ugandans deserve better,” he said by telephone yesterday. “Instead of engaging with the real problems of Uganda, which are leadership and structural, government officials are trying to get other excuses.”
The new tougher rules, Mr Larok said, will not affect their organisation substantially because, as an affiliate to Action Aid-International, their staff is “99 per cent” local.
He said the set conditions are likely to affect each NGO differently, but the public should ask if the rules will be applied uniformly, and why the government itself has tolerated wide disparities in remuneration of public officials, to the disadvantage of those with equal or higher qualification, resulting in brain drain.
The new guidelines specify that applications for a work permit by an NGO for a foreign employee should, among other requirements, contain justifications for employing the foreigner, and not a Ugandan, and period within which the expatriate will be replaced by a Ugandan as well as their salary alongside that offered to local employees.
By Tabu Butagira, Daily Monitor