Politics

Suspension of foreign NGOs: Clarification or reversal?

The National Security Council (CNS) suspended on Thursday September 27, 2018, the activities of foreign non-governmental organizations from October 1st. The measure raised an outcry. On Tuesday, October 2, the Minister of the Interior met with representatives of those NGOs to clarify that controversial measure. Flashback on the measure.

Pascal Barandagiye: "Whoever will close the hospital will be held accountable for the consequences."

Pascal Barandagiye: “Whoever will close the hospital will be held accountable for the consequences.”

Initially scheduled for October 1st, the meeting of the Minister of the Interior with representatives of NGOs finally took place the next day in one of the rooms of Hotel Source du Nil. NGO representatives responded massively to the invitation.

Pascal Barandagiye, Minister of the Interior and Patriotic Training, did not mince his words. “We are not here to change anything about the communication of the National Security Council. It is a supreme body that is above the ministries and is headed by the Head of State. “For him, the purpose of the meeting was to give details on the implementation of the measure taken on 27 September by the National Security Council.

Mr. Barandagiye said that the measure arose following a “negative observation” that was made by this Council. He said some organizations exist only by name. In a program intended for spokespersons for public institutions, Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, Spokesman for the President gave an example of an NGO which “only gave three hens during three years ” in the province of Ngozi. Others work under the cover of other NGOs without being accredited. “The time has come to do away with all these irregularities,” said Minister Barandagiye.

He added that “many” organizations do not respect the law governing NGOs. He recalled that since the promulgation of that law in January 2017, the concerned NGOs were given six months to comply with it but have not done so to date. He said that from now on, their activities must follow Burundi’s 2017-2027 National Development Plan.

Conditions for reopening

Mr.Barandagiye also denounced the non-respect for ethnic quotas by those NGOs. According to him, the government is aware of the difficulties that may arise if these organizations apply them immediately.
“We ask you to proceed with the correction of these imbalances in the recruitment process over a period of three years.” Moreover, the minister said those imbalances concern ethnic groups and gender.

On this same point, Senator Martin Ninteretse, Chair of the commission on Institutional Affairs, completes the Minister. “Regarding the recruitment of personnel, foreign NGOs are bound by the same principle as the public administration. The senator recalls that ethnic representativeness in the sector is 60% for Hutus and 40% for Tutsis. He believes that it is the spirit of Arusha whose same partners continue to demand that it should be effectively respected. With regard to the implementation of the Arusha accord in all and everywhere, Senator Ninteretse says these foreign organizations don’t consider it.

Thus, the reopening of foreign NGOs operating in Burundi will be conditioned by the presentation of the cooperation agreement, the protocol of program implementation in accordance with the new national development plan, the act of commitment regarding the respect for banking regulations, exchange rate and the progressive plan to correct imbalances.

However, Barandagiye says the reopening of activities will not necessarily wait for three months. As soon as the required documents are submitted to the Ministry of the Interior, the reopening will be automatic. Moreover, the government denies all responsibility if humanitarian organizations close hospitals or schools. “Whoever will close the hospital will be held responsible for the consequences,” he said.


A controversial measure

The announcement of this suspension was differently appreciated. The spokesman for the President made serious accusations against some NGOs without producing evidence.

The statement was read by General Silas Ntigurirwa, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council at the national television in the evening of 27 September.

Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako: "These NGOs teach young Burundians same sex marriage, which is contrary to our culture and laws."

Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako: “These NGOs teach young Burundians same sex marriage, which is contrary to our culture and laws.”

“After analyzing the functioning of NGOs operating in Burundi, the National Security Council found that most of them do not comply with the law or the texts governing them,” he said.
He announced that “the National Security Council decided to suspend all activities of these NGOs for a period of three months, from 1 October 2018, to allow the institutions responsible for them to verify their compliance with the law and regulations in force.”

This text, promulgated in January 2017, provides for a strict control of their finances, administrative costs and ethnic quotas (60% Hutu and 40% Tutsi) as in public administration.

The next day, during the program of the spokespersons for the institutions which was broadcast live from Ruyigi province, Jean-Claude Karerwa Ndenzako, spokesman for the President of the Republic did not beat about the bush. He accused some NGOs of promoting homosexuality although he did not mention their names: “They teach Burundians, especially young people, same sex marriage. All of this is against our culture and laws,” he said.

Strong accusations

Furthermore, Mr Ndenzako said that even if those Foreign NGOs say they are independent, most of them are involved in the trade of arms, in the creation of conflicts and wars so that weapons manufacturers from their countries of origin have markets: “Others are used to create pathologies on behalf of pharmaceutical industries, still others create conflicts to paralyze or destroy countries so that there are markets for reconstruction …”

All this is known, he still said, before adding that this decision aims to improve the sector so that these NGOs work in serenity while respecting the Burundian laws and the dignity of Burundian citizens.
The spokesman for the President of the Republic concluded his statement by saying that none of these NGOs hit by this suspension will complain about this decision of the National Security Council: “They know very well that what they do in Burundi is not done anywhere else in the world even in their countries of origin. He suggested that they welcome this three-month suspension because this period is sufficient for them to comply with the law.


What does the law say?
The law on foreign non-governmental organizations in Article15 obliges these NGOs to dispose and hold complete and precise accounts of their assets, their incomes and their expenses in accordance with usual accounting practices. It reserves for the Minister of External Relations the right to audit their financial management. “The latter may require an NGO to submit an external audit report”.
1/3 of the budget on the accounts of Burundi National Bank

In Article 16, this law requires compliance with the banking regulations in force in relation to foreign exchange. They must transfer one third of their budgets to the accounts of Burundi National Bank-BRB before the signing of the cooperation agreement. It clarifies that the salaries of non-expatriate staff must be in local currency.


Ethnic quotas

Article 18 calls on NGOs to recruit local staff. “Any recruitment of expatriate staff is conditioned upon the request and the obtaining of approval”. This recruitment must, in addition, respect the ethnic and gender quotas provided for by the Constitution of June 7, 2018 (60% of Hutu and 40% of Tutsi with a minimum of 30% of women). According to this law, foreign NGOs must respect the areas of intervention as agreed with Bujumbura government.

Punishments

Regarding sanctions, the suspension of the general cooperation convention follows the failure by an NGO to fulfill the obligations provided for by this law. Article 26 stipulates that the Ministry of External Relations may withdraw its approval agreement following “serious irregularities” in relation to the management of projects and programs. Activities that no longer correspond to the goals and objectives defined in the statutes may also cause the agreement to terminate.

The National Committee for Aid and Cooperation also decides on the suspension of an NGO. It does so on the basis of a report by the monitoring and evaluation committee of NGOs that falls under the Ministry of the Interior.
However, the decision is made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Foreign NGOs had six months to comply with this law.


A measure differently appreciated

Many reactions from different people have followed the measure.

Léonce ngendakumanaIn the wake of this measure, Léonce Ngendakumana, vice-president of FRODEBU party, said it was a proposal: “This council has an advisory role like other national councils”. It does not take decisions. According to him, the National Security Council advises the President of the Republic and the government in the elaboration of the national security policy. It produces a report which it submits to the Head of State, the Government and the two chambers of Parliament. “This has not been done yet. That’s why we say the decision has not been taken yet. ”

This former speaker of the National Assembly says “this proposed measure” will lead to negative consequences for the population. These NGOs work on projects which are beneficial to Burundians. “Imagine the damage that this decision will cause if the medical charity MSF closes its doors for three months,” he says.

He advises the authorities not to put all the NGOs in the same box. “They did not make the same mistake and cannot be punished in the same way.” The government should deal with each case differently.


MutabaziAs for Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, chairman of RADEBU party, he says the decision is strong but normal. For him, it aims to encourage foreign NGOs to work legally and respect their commitments. However, he recommends that the measure be stopped for some organizations: “We expect it to be lifted for NGOs which will prove that they work in strict compliance with the law.” According to Mutabazi, it is still early to assess the impact of the measure taken by the National Security Council.


For Faustin Ndikumana, chairman of PARCEM, a local NGO, this measure is surprising in many respects. The National Security Council has an advisory role. It can give guidance but such a measure must be made by the government: “It is the ministries in charge of these organizations which must make thorough investigations, give written reports , thus taking actions against this or the other NGO for not having respected the law. ”

Faustin NdikumanaSecondly, because the sector of NGO is vital in the socio-economic life of our country, “Burundi is in a serious situation of shortage of currencies with a trade deficit of -20%. Deciding to do without the supply of foreign currency in the case of NGOs is not a good measure.”

He says recent publications of a study on tourism show that, currently, 60% of foreign visitors come to Burundi as part of NGOs: “They come with all the funding to help the people of Burundi,” he says.
Contacted, some officials of these NGOs did not want to speak. However, shortly after the announcement of this measure, CARE International Burundi decided to suspend all its activities. In an internal memo, this American organization called on its staff not to come to work or use company cars adding that its offices will remain closed even to its partners. As we write, the management of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) imposed a lay-off of some of its employees with immediate effect until further notice in order to meet the requests of the Burundian government.

 

Written by Arnaud Igor Giriteka & Christian Bigirimana
Translated by Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana