Rwanda wants 80pc of NGOs’ budget to ‘directly’ reach vulnerable people

By News Agency , Agency
Published at 07:00 AM Apr 20 2024

Judith Uwizeye, Minister in the Office of the President.
Photo: File
Judith Uwizeye, Minister in the Office of the President.

A new draft law presented in parliament on April 18 by Judith Uwizeye, the Minister in the Office of the President, has requested NGOs in Rwanda not to spend more than 20 per cent of their budget on operational costs.

An operating cost is an expense from the daily operations, materials, and other necessary components an organisation uses regularly. Operating costs may include necessary expenses like rent, utilities, payroll, and supplies among others.

Activists, however, argue that the drafters of the law may not fully understand how NGOs operate, as NGOs typically allocate their budgets based on the demands of their funders.

The draft law states: “Organisation has an obligation not to exceed 20 per cent of its operating budget in activity programmes that are not in the interest of their beneficiaries.”

The proposal also aims to avoid scams by some NGOs in the country according to drafters.

One of the most common forms of NGO scams is misappropriation of funds.

Fraudulent NGOs often collect donations under the guise of supporting a noble cause but misuse the funds for personal expenses.

According to the draft law, non-governmental organisations have also been obliged to keep, for at least 10 years, the documents regarding the use of property in the country.

Once the draft law is approved, the organisations’ action plans and financial reports will be approved by districts and line ministries.

“An organisation has obligations to submit to the board its activity and financial report for the previous year and the plan of action for the coming year, approved where applicable by the district administration, the line ministry, or any other state organ having responsibilities related to the field of activity of the organisation, within the first three months of the following fiscal year,” reads part of the draft law.

MP Germaine Mukabalisa said the new draft law should assure Rwandans of eliminating NGO scammers.

“We want to hear measures in the draft law against so-called charity organisations which pretend to give money and jobs to needy people but end up disappearing within a few days,” she said.

Mukabalisa also asked if the requirement for NGOs to submit plans and reports to line ministries and districts will not eliminate their independence and make them like government organs.

Minister Uwizeye responded that the obligation is aimed at ensuring NGOs implement their objectives and eliminate NGO scammers.

“What NGOs are doing to benefit the welfare of people should not be done in disorder. That is why what they do must be in line with what we wish on our list as government, as districts. They must be regulated. That is why the NGOs must submit action plans and sources of finance, and reports which must be monitored and approved. This will help eliminate scammers with empty promises,” she explained.

The draft law has put NGOs in categories that include NGOs aimed to benefit community development, general public interest, members’ interest based on their particularities, profession-based organisations, sports, games and sport-based entertainment organisations, umbrellas, and forum of umbrellas. Umbrella organisations carrying out related activities may form a forum of umbrella organisations.

According to the draft law, national non-governmental organisations carrying out related activities may form an umbrella organisation. However, for an umbrella to be accepted, it must be composed of at least 10 organisations.

Civil society’s reactions

Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza, Chairperson of Rwanda Civil Society Platform (RCSP), emphasised the significance of soliciting more inputs from non-state actors.

“We read that districts and ministries have to approve NGOs’ action plans and budget they spent, to monitor if NGOs accomplished what they pledged. We look forward to hearing more explanation as the committee analyses the draft law to have a common understanding,” he said.

He said that the budget spending criteria also need further civil society consultations.

“Administration activities need a budget so that activities reach beneficiaries. Saying we must not exceed 20 per cent of the budget on administration activities might not be possible. For instance, research organisations and others need more than that,” he said.

According to the law, an organisation intending to spend more than 20 per cent of its operating budget on activity programmes that are not in the interest of its beneficiaries must provide prior justification in writing to the board.

LandNet Rwanda, a network of local Rwandan organisations and international NGOs which deals with land issues, also wrote to parliament on April 17, asking to reflect the views of NGOs.

“We observe that there is no policy that guides this draft law which opens room for challenges during its implementation. We recommend putting on hold parliamentary discussions on this law so that relevant authorities develop the policy first,” reads part of the letter.

The organisation also recommended the establishment of an NGO forum or council that brings together all NGOs registered in Rwanda.

MP Frank Habineza also inquired about the consultation of civil society. Minister Uwizeye responded to parliament by stating that it would be wrong if civil society was not consulted. She mentioned there is still a chance to provide feedback as the responsible committee is reviewing the draft law.