Uganda

Current as of June 2014 | Download print version (in PDF)

Comments related to any information in this Note should be addressed to Brittany Grabel.

Table of Contents  

  1. Summary
    1. Types of Organizations
    2. Tax Laws
  2. Applicable Laws
  3. Relevant Legal Forms
    1. General Legal Forms
    2. Public Benefit Status
  4. Specific Questions Regarding Local Law
    1. Inurement
    2. Proprietary Interest
    3. Dissolution
    4. Activities
    5. Political Activities
    6. Discrimination
    7. Control of Organization
    8. Foreign Grants
  5. Tax Laws
    1. Tax Exemptions
    2. Value Added Tax
    3. Import Duties
    4. Double Tax Treaties
  6. Knowledgeable Contacts

I. Summary
 
A. Types of Organizations

Ugandan law allows for the establishment of a variety of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs), and the country is host to a number of national, regional, and international organizations. NPOs interacting with foreign grantmakers are most commonly constituted as:

  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs);
  • trusts; and
  • foundations. [1]

NGOs are primarily governed by the Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Act Chapter 113 (1989)(“NGO Registration Act”), which was amended by the Non-Governmental Organisations Registration (Amendment) Act (2006) (“NGO Registration (Amendment) Act”). [2] The NGO Registration Act defines an “organization” as “a nongovernmental organization established to provide voluntary services, including religious, education, literary, scientific, social or charitable services, to the community or any part of it” (NGO Registration Act Section 1(d)).

Trusts are covered by the Trustees Act Chapter 164 (1954) and the Trustees Incorporation Act Chapter 165 (1939).

Foundations can be registered either under the Trustees Incorporation Act or as companies limited by guarantee under the Companies Act Chapter 110.

B. Tax Laws 

Uganda’s Income Tax Act establishes a category of exempt organizations which includes those that are of a religious, charitable, educational, or public character. Qualifying organizations are exempt from tax on almost all categories of income.

Individuals and legal entities are eligible for tax deductions for charitable contributions. Ugandan law subjects certain sales of goods and services to VAT, with a fairly broad range of exempt activities. Foreign grants are exempt from VAT.

II. Applicable Laws 

III. Relevant Legal Forms

A. General Legal Forms

Ugandan law provides for several types of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs), including NGOs, trusts, and foundations. Other not-for-profit legal forms, which are outside the scope of this Note due to their limited interaction with U.S. grantmakers, include: community-based organizations, cooperative societies, societies, communal land associations, political parties, religious entities, and trade unions.

Ugandan law also distinguishes between a local and foreign organization. A local organization is defined as an organization which is wholly owned and controlled by Ugandans; a foreign organization is one that is not local (NGO Registration Regulations Section 2). An application for registration of a local NGO requires a fee of 20,000 Ugandan Shillings (approximately 8 US Dollars), while the application of a foreign company requires a fee of 100 US Dollars (NGO Registration Regulations Section 2).

NGOs. The Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Act (1989) (“NGO Registration Act”) defines an “organization” as “a nongovernmental organization established to provide voluntary services, including religious, educational, literary, scientific, social or charitable services to the community or any part of it” (NGO Registration Act Section 1(d)). The Law does not distinguish between membership and non-membership organizations. NGOs must register with the National Board of NGOs (NGO Registration Act Section 2(1); NGO Registration (Amendment) Act Section 4; NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 3).

Section 4 of the Advocates (Legal Aid to Indigent Persons) Regulations (2007) defines a legal aid provider as a person, organization, or institution whose main objective is the provision of legal aid and who is registered by the Law Council as a legal aid provider. (Section 6 of the Regulations requires NPOs that provide legal aid to register as legal aid service providerswith the Law Council.)

Trusts and Foundations.

Trusts and Foundations.The Trustees Act and the Trustees Incorporation Act govern trusts and foundations. Trusts may be established by anybody or association for any “religious, educational, literary, scientific, social or charitable purpose” (Trustees Incorporation Act Section 1(1)). Trusts and foundations are established to provide grants, and in some cases loan financing at a more affordable rate to NGOs, community-based organizations, and private organizations in support of their goals and objectives. [4] Section 126 of the Companies Act provides that “[a] notice of any trust, expressed, implied or constructive shall not be entered on the register or be receivable by the registrar.”

B. Public Benefit Status

The NGO Registration Act includes in its definition of “organizations” those that provide “charitable services to the community or any part of it” (NGO Registration Act, Section 1(d)). The Act, however, does not define the term “charitable services.” Nor does it otherwise confer a special status on charitable or public benefit organizations. The Trustees Incorporation Act also does not define “charitable purpose” as the term is used in the section on establishing a trust.

Notably, however, the Income Tax Act limits "exempt organization" status to those organizations, institutions or irrevocable trusts that qualify as religious, charitable, or educational institutions of a public character that have been issued a written ruling by the Commissioner stating that it is an exempt organization (Income Tax Act, Section 2(bb)). 

Charitable organizations established under the Companies Act do not benefit from any tax exemptions.

IV. Specific Questions Regarding Local Law

A. Inurement 

Common law practice dictates that neither the income nor assets of a not-for-profit organization can be distributed to employees, directors, founders, or any other person other than for the fulfillment of the organization’s statutory purposes. (Reasonable compensation for services rendered in the course of fulfilling the activities of an organization is allowed.) According to local experts, as a matter of common law practice, this prohibition extends to NGOs, trusts, and foundations.

Regulation 15(1) of the NGO Registration Regulations (2009) provides that “an organization or a member or employee of the organization shall not use the organization directly or indirectly to engage in any gainful activities for individual interests except for the economic interest of the organization or in fulfilling its objectives.” According to local experts, as a matter of common law practice, this prohibition extends to all NPOs, including trusts and foundations.

B. Proprietary Interest

NGOs possess legal personality, so property is vested in the organization as a legal entity. There are no express legal provisions that allow donors to retrieve donated property or determine the destination of their contributed assets outside applicable contract obligations. The use of donor-recipient contracts is common in Uganda, but a donor cannot enter into a contract with an organization that enables the donor to recoup his or her donation if the organization dissolves. According to local experts, as a matter of common law practice, this prohibition extends to trusts and foundations as well. 

C. Dissolution  

Ugandan law does not provide for the distribution of assets upon liquidation of an NPO. Rather, the law requires the constitution of each organization to establish procedures for the disposition of the organization’s assets upon dissolution (NGO Registration (Amendment) Act Article 10, amending Article 13 of the NGO Registration Act; NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 17(7)(b)). According to local experts, the general practice is that upon dissolution and winding-up of an organization, its debts and liabilities are settled first and the remaining property is distributed to other organizations with similar aims and objectives. The law prohibits the distribution of assets among members. 

D. Activities

1. General

Objective V of the Constitution on National Objective and Directive Principles provides that:

  • The State shall guarantee and respect institutions which are charged by the State with responsibility for protecting and promoting human rights by providing them with adequate resources to function effectively.
  • The State shall guarantee and respect the independence

At the same time, The NGO Registration Act, Chapter 113, as amended, and its implementing NGO Registration Regulations (2009) allow the Government of Uganda to exercise considerable control over the operation of NGOs. First, an NGO is prohibited from operating in Uganda unless it has registered with the National Board of Nongovernmental Organizations (“Board”) (NGO Registration Act Section 2(1); NGO Registration (Amendment) Act Section 4; and NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 3). When issuing a certificate of registration to the NGO, the Board may grant the registration subject to conditions or directions “generally as it may think fit to insert in the certificate, and particularly relating to: (a) the operation of the organization; (b) where the organization may carry out its activities; and (c) staffing of the organization” (NGO Registration Act Section 2(2)). [5]

2. Economic Activities  

NPOs in Uganda may not pursue economic activities as their sole purpose. [6] NGOs may engage in economic activities for fundraising purposes, such as the sale of goods or services to the public or to any other organization (see NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 15(4)). The prices of such goods and services must be in conformity with the prices, if any, prescribed by the Government for those goods and services or, where no such prices have been prescribed, prices must be in conformity with open market prices. Money earned by the organization in excess of the administrative costs incurred must be reinvested in the project or as directed by the organization (NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 15(5)).

The Income Tax Act, Chapter 340, Section 21(f) provides further guidance on the types of economic activities that exempt organizations may engage in without becoming liable for income tax payments. The Income Tax Act provides that income other than property income or business income not related to the functions constituting the basis for an organization’s existence will be subject to tax. 

E. Political Activities 

The law does not impose a limit on the resources of an organization or share of its budget that can be devoted to lobbying or other legislative activities.

As for “political” activities, Ugandan NGOs are not permitted to belong to any political group. They cannot directly or indirectly support a political candidate running for office. NGOs can actively participate in the election process through conducting educational seminars on current topics of political concern, including understanding the platform of various candidates. Moreover, organizations are allowed to engage in monitoring and observing the electoral process, documenting election irregularities, cooperating with the Electoral Commission, and proposing improvements to the process of elections. In the past, organizations have also supported candidates in their bids to challenge election results. 

F. Discrimination 

The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda prohibits discrimination in all spheres of political, social, and cultural life, as well as based on sex, race, color, tribe, origin, birth, social or economic standing or disability (Constitution Article 21). In addition, the Constitution includes National Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy that provide, “The State shall take appropriate measures to afford every citizen equal opportunity to attain the highest educational standard possible” (Constitution Objective 18). These provisions bind all persons, including educational institutions. 

G. Control of Organization
Ugandan law does not restrict other organizations or persons from controlling a Ugandan NPO. A not-for-profit entity might establish an NPO and continue to control or own it. Likewise, a Ugandan NPO could be controlled by a foreign grantor charity.

H. Foreign Grants

Regulation 15(3) of the NGO Registration Regulations (2009) requires that where an organization “receives monies in convertible currency in its possession, it shall open and operate an external bank account with a reputable bank in which the currency shall be deposited and through which the transactions shall be conducted.” To monitor the use of foreign grants and related NGO activities, Ugandan law requires NGOs to: submit to the NGO Board an annual return and a report approved by the organization's annual general meeting or Board of Directors; provide to the relevant district development committee estimates of its income and expenditures for review and approval; and submit to the Board or any other authority information that the Board may consider to be in the public interest (NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 16). [7]

V. Tax Laws 

A. Tax Exemption

Uganda's Income Tax Act provides that an organization is exempt from paying income tax if it falls within the definition of "exempt organization" under Section 2(bb) of the Income Tax Act and has been issued a formal ruling from the Tax Commissioner qualifying it as an exempt organization. The Income Tax Act defines an exempt organization as a company, institution, or irrevocable trust that is:

  1. an amateur sporting association;
  2. a religious, charitable, or educational institution of a public character; or
  3. a trade union, employees' association, an association of employers registered under any law of Uganda, or an association established for the purpose of promoting farming, mining, tourism, manufacturing, or commerce and industry in Uganda.

All income of an exempt organization is exempt from income tax, with the exception of property income received by the organization. Rental income of immovable property, however, may be also exempt if it is used by the lessee exclusively for the activities of the organization specified in the Act. In addition, business income received by an NGO that is not related to the function constituting the basis of the organization’s existence is subject to tax (Income Tax Act Section 21(f)).

Individuals and legal entities are eligible for tax deductions for charitable contributions to a tax-exempt organization listed in Section 2(bb), (a) and (b) of the Income Tax Act. An individual may claim as a deduction up to 5% of that individual’s taxable income for the year in which the gift is made.

B. Value Added Tax

The standard VAT rate is 18% (Value Added Tax (Amendment) Act (2005) Section 3). Foreign grants are not subject to VAT. Certain supplies are exempt from VAT, including: unprocessed foodstuffs and agricultural products; educational, medical, dental, or nursing services; social welfare services; and medical equipment (VAT Act Schedule 2 Section 19). 

The legislation also makes provision for select zero-rated supplies, including drugs and medicines, and educational materials (Section 24(4)and 3rd Schedule of VAT Act (1997) Chapter 34).

The annual registration threshold is fifty million Uganda shillings (approximately USD 20) (VAT Act (1997) Chapter 349 Section 7(2)).

C. Import Duties

The East African Community Customs Management (EACCM) Act regulates the management and administration of customs duties on imports in Uganda and the region. Goods and equipment used in aid funded projects are exempt from customs duties (EACCM Act Section 114 Schedule 5(10)). However, the Act does not define “aid funded projects.” In addition, goods imported by international and regional organizations with diplomatic accreditation as well as donor agencies are similarly exempt from paying import duties (EACCM Act Section 114 Schedule 5(6)). The Act does not list local or national NGOs as entities entitled to an automatic exemption on imports.

Certain agricultural and health-related items are listed as exempt from import duties (Schedule 5 Part B).

D. Double Tax Treaties

No tax treaties have been entered into between Uganda and the United States.

VII. Knowledgeable Contacts 

Livingstone Sewanyana
Executive Director
Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)
Human Rights House
Plot 1853, Lulume Road, Nsambya
P.O Box 11027,
Kampala, Uganda
Tel.: 256 41 510263, 510498, 510276, 0752791963
Fax: 256 41 510498

Email: fhri@dmail.ug, fhri91@gmail.com. URL: www.fhri.or.ug


Footnotes

[1] Due to their limited interaction with U.S. grantmakers this Note will not cover Ugandan law as it relates to community-based organizations (CBOs), trade unions, cooperatives, cooperative societies, political parties, and religious entities.

[2] The Ugandan Parliament passed the NGO Registration (Amendment) Act in 2006. The President assented to the Act in May 2006, and it came into operation in August 2007. The new NGO Regulations, cited as “Non-Governmental Organisations Registration Regulations, 2009,” which implement the Act were gazetted on March 29, 2009, and are in force. Thus, the NGO Registration Regulations SI 113-1 (1990) are null and void (NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 20).

The NGO Registration (Amendment) Act (2006) modified the NGO Registration Act (1989) as it pertains to the National Board of Nongovernmental Organizations. The Board has authority to monitor NGO operations and develop policy guidelines for NGOs and CBOs. Additionally, NGOs are now required to obtain a periodic permit to operate (NGOs are not absolved from the requirement that they register with the NGO Board). The Amendment Act also expanded the powers of the Ministry to regulate the dissolution of NGOs.

The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) embarked on the formulation of a National NGO Policy within the framework of Article 108 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda that mandates the Prime Minister to be responsible for coordinating the implementation of government policies across ministries, departments, and other public institutions. Various stakeholders including government agencies, NGOs, and donor representatives were consulted to provide input into the NGO Policy. The Policy was approved by the Cabinet in October 2010 and is now in force. However, there is a pending court case that may affect the Policy. The Policy impacts Section 4 of the Principal Act, which provides for the establishment and composition of the NGO Board.

The NGO Board’s composition is decentralized. At the district level, the Board is represented by the District NGO Monitoring Committee, which is composed of the Chief Administrative Officer, Community Development Officer, District Internal Security Officer, District Director of Health services, District Education Officer, and the representative of NGOs. At the sub-county level, the Board is represented by the sub-county NGO monitoring Committee, which is composed of the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, Assistant Community Development Officer, Gomobolola (subcounty) Internal Security Officers, sub-county health inspector, and a representative of NGOs.

The Policy also impacts Section 7 of the Principal Act. Under the new Policy the Board shall in addition to the functions provided under the Act be responsible for:

a)      Conducting background checks and scrutinizing the credentials and status of all international NGOs seeking to register and operate in Uganda;

b)     Consider applications for the renewal of NGO permits;

c)      Monitor compliance by all registered NGOs with the terms and conditions of their certificates of registration/incorporation and their constitutions;

d)      Provide appropriate guidelines for the operationalization of the NGO Policy at line ministry and lower levels of the district administration consistent with the principles of the Policy;

e)      In liaison with designated officers in line ministries and local government authorities, monitor district relations with NGOs to ensure compliance with set guidelines;

f)      Coordinate government engagement with the NGO sector;

g)     Coordinate government engagement with other stakeholders to establish a reliable database and information system on the NGO sector; and

h)     In consultation with the lead Ministry and NGO umbrella organizations, prepare periodic reports on the status, contribution and impact of the NGO sector on national development.

[3] Uganda’s legal system is based on English Common Law and African Customary Law. Customary law governs to the extent that it does not contradict the statutory laws, although the 1995 Constitution, as amended, is the supreme law of the land. The articles of the Constitution referenced in this Note are those of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, as amended February 2006.

[4] A community-based organization, or CBO, is an organization “operating at a subcounty level and below, whose objective is to promote and advance the well being of its members or the community” (Nongovernmental Organizations Registration (Amendment) Act Amendment 6). CBOs typically are formed to accomplish one specific purpose: examples include forming groups to work collectively on members’ farms or to support funeral ceremony preparations. A few groups take a wider community development role. CBOs are relatively small (usually involving 10-20 households).

[5] The NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 13 requires organizations to comply with the following requirements in carrying out their operations:

  1. Organizations shall "not make any direct contact with the people in their area of Uganda" without providing seven days’ notice in writing of its intention to do so to the local councils and Resident Direct Commissioners.
  2. Organizations shall cooperate with the local government councils and district committees in the area.
  3. Organizations are prevented from engaging in any act which is "prejudicial to the security of Uganda or any part of it.”
  4. Organizations shall restrict their operations to the area of Uganda in respect of which it is permitted to operate.
  5. Organizations shall hold themselves responsible for all actions of their members and employees done in the course of their employment.
  6. Organizations shall obtain the approval of the Board for any goods for which they seek exemptions.
  7. Organizations shall not engage in any act which is prejudicial to the interests of Uganda and the dignity of the people of Uganda.

[6] An exception is Micro–Credit Associations that engage in business, and may be registered as NPOs with the sole purpose of doing business.

[7] Regulation 14(a) and (c) of the NGO Registration Regulations (2009) also provides that an organization at the time of registration shall comply with certain staffing regulations, particularly specifying:

  • an organization shall submit to the Board a chart showing its organizational structure as stipulated in its constitution accompanied by a statement specifying its foreign staff requirements where necessary, indicating requirements of the Ugandan counterparts of foreign employees; and indicating the period for replacement of its foreign employees with qualified Ugandans.
  • an organization shall not employ a person who is not a citizen of Uganda unless that person has, before proceeding to Uganda for employment, submitted a diplomatic mission in his/her country of origin for transmission to the Government of Uganda for consideration for his suitability for employment.

Additionally, the NGO Registration Regulations (2009) Regulation 2 defines a foreign NGO as one which is not a local organization including an affiliate of a foreign or international organization with offices in Uganda. Regulation 10(b) of the NGO Registration Regulations (2009) sets out prescribed fees for a foreign organization of USD 100 or its equivalent. The same fee is payable upon application for a permit or for renewal of a permit.