6 Tips to Boost your Legal Compliance

Woman in front of post-its

By Yvonne Heselmans

Manager of the Projects Department at Wilde Ganzen. Yvonne has extensive experience in the peace and human rights movement.

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Worldwide states tighten their grip on Civil Society Organizations (CSOs): Governments in low- and middle-income countries constantly invoke the law to curtail the work of CSOs. This has come with a lot of expensive administrative procedures for CSOs. Although we cannot make the needed legal compliance more fun, we can make it easier. Hereby I would like to share 6 tips to boost the legal compliance of your organization, following examples from and several discussions with legal experts in Uganda last year.

Legal Compliance Gaps

CSOs in Uganda are primarily governed by the NGO Act (2016) and NGO Regulations (2017). However, formally they should comply with 25 (!) Laws and accompanying regulations which are supervised by a broad range of legal authorities. Practice shows that most Wilde Ganzen partners in Uganda are – often beyond their power and/or knowledge – not able to fully meet all these legal requirements. Legal compliance gaps vary from lack of a physical address, operating with an invalid Certificate of Registration to failing to file annual income tax returns to the legal authorities.

Closure of your organization

Incompliance with the NGO Regulatory Framework negatively affects the credibility, legitimacy and accountability of CSOs. If legal authorities discover that a CSO does not comply with the NGO Regulatory Framework, the organization faces the risk of suspension and even closure of the organization. It is thus imperative that CSOs comply with the NGO Regulatory Framework to sustain their activities and be a trustworthy, resilient and impactful partner to the government, donor but – even more important – the community itself.

From Passion to Profession

Most CSOs start from passion: Compassionate individuals who want to support those less fortunate where government and public services fall short. But, at a certain moment passion calls for professionalization – a solid foundation – which ensures that the offered services can be continued, particularly in a context of shrinking civic space.

6 Tips to boost your legal compliance

  1. Be familiar with the NGO Regulatory Framework
    Make sure that your organization is informed on which laws and regulations apply to CSOs in your country and make sure you receive regular updates on amendments. If necessary, invest in the capacity building of your organization: Make sure that a staff member is legally knowledgeable.
  2. Check your Certificate of Registration
    The ‘Civil Society’ consists of a broad range of organizations registered at local, national or international level. Your Certificate of Registration defines which legal requirements should be met. Make sure your organization is informed on which laws and regulations specifically apply to the Certificate of Registration of your organization.
  3. Bigger is not (always) better
    In comparison to CBOs, NGOs in Uganda are allowed to operate nationwide. The Certificate of Registration and Operation Permit should fit the mission of your organization: Although a Non-Governmental Organization Registration could provide access to (foreign) funding and allow you to operate nationwide, it is also associated with expensive administrative procedures and not – always – perquisite to fulfil your mission as a Community-Based Organization Make sure that the Certificate of Registration and Operation Permit match with the mission and area of operation of your organization.
  4. Dare to appeal for legal support
    In case of doubt or problems, dare to appeal to legal assistance. In many low- and middle-income countries not-for-profit legal initiatives, (self-)assessment tools and/or campaigns have been launched to support CSOs to meet their legal requirements. For example, in Uganda you can obtain information from Chapter 4, use QuAm as a self-assessment tool or become part of #BeLegit campaign.
  5. Planning
    The NGO Regulatory Framework prescribes the validity of certificates or administrative deadlines (e.g. When do you have to submit your Annual Income Tax return? ). Make sure that your organization is informed about and includes these deadlines within its annual planning.
  6. Budgetting
    Legal Compliance comes along with annual and/or returning costs for your organization. Ensure that these administrative costs are included in the annual budget of your organization too.

Discretion is required

Overall, it became clear that organizations can only take good care of others, if they take good care of their own operations as well. In a context of shrinking civic space, legal health checks and accompanying legal support must be conducted with discretion. Thanks to our extensive network, Wilde Ganzen can link your organization to trustworthy and knowledgeable legal experts who could support your organization to boost your legal compliance so that you can do what you do best: to support the well-being of others!

For more information, please reach out to your contact person at Wilde Ganzen Foundation.