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2016 `ghost voters’

By Agather Atuhaire

Why MPs fear new law on registration

Something unusual happened in parliament on November 25, 2014. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Gen. Aronda Nyakairima and his deputy, James Baba, and the Permanent Secretary, Stephen Kagoda, were appearing before the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs to give their side in a dispute over a controversial piece of proposed legislation; the Registration of Persons Bill. Apart from MPs, the Bill had run into trouble from an unexpected quota; the Citizens and Immigration Board. When MPs asked the three officials why the Board,which falls under them, was opposed to the Bill, James Baba spoke harshly about the Board Chairperson, Beatrice Nyakaisiki.

Her record is very bad,” he told the MPs, “We all know it. She has been fighting the Second Deputy Premier for the last 30 years and she has failed. Now she thinks she can take on this celebrated, decorated general. She will not succeed. Let her not waste her time.”

Despite Baba’s bravado, however, Nyakaisiki’s contention was simple: Under the current law, Section 31 of the Uganda Citizenship and immigrations Control mandates her board; through the National Registration Secretariat, to register all citizens and issue them with National Identity cards after application. Nyakaisiki was supported by John Eresu, a member of the board.

Most MPs at this point appeared to agree with Nyakaisiki and her board – and not Aronda, Baba and their team.

The MPs looked set to throw out the Bill when, at that same meeting, Gen. Aronda reaffirmed word that had been circulating. He announced that data completed under the National ID registration project would be used to compile the 2016 elections voters’ register. It was like the general had dropped a bombshell.

Army role in election queried

The voters’ register has been a controversial issue in almost all elections since 1996 when a regular five-year cycle was established. The figures of registered voters and voter turn-outs presented by the Electoral Commission have been contested.

Soon after the 2006 elections, for example Civil Society Organisations and opposition parties demanded that in future elections, the Electoral Commission needed to be reconstituted to accommodate the “spirit of multipartyism” and that security forces needed to be removed from management of electoral processes. At the time, army Gen. Kale Kayihura who heads the Uganda Police was seen to have been influential to securing victory for President Yoweri Museveni.

However, during the 2011 elections the role of the security forces remained unchanged and the Electoral Commission was not reconstituted.

Instead, as the country prepared for the next round of election in 2016, President Museveni on May 23, 2013 appointed another army general, Aronda Nyakairima as Internal Affairs Minister.The Electoral Commission is an autonomous body but it depends a lot on Gen. Nyakairima’s ministry to oversee the election.

Then in August 2013, the controversial National ID project was handed to a newly created unit in the Uganda army; the National Security Information Systems (NSIS) project under UPDF Col. Stephen Kwiringira with Gen. Nyakairima as overall boss.

When Nyakairima announced on November 25, 2014 that the information gathered by NSIS was to be used to compile the 2016 elections voters’ register, MPs said it was a sign of a clear plot to put the security forces in charge and rig the election. That is how the Registration of Persons Bill ran into trouble.

Bill fails on procedure

The controversial Bill was first tabled in Parliament by Gen. Nyakairima on September 30, 2014. By late February 2015, about five months later and with the 2016 Election clock ticking, the Bill had been up for debate for more than three weeks with MPs arguing over each and every clause.

There were hints of gerrymandering when some MPs raised the most bizarre points – including one about the Bill not providing for “people who change sexes”.

After it was first tabled, as required by procedure, it was sent to the Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs, chaired by Mubende Woman MP Benny Namugwanya for scrutiny. But when Namugwanya presented the Committee report to the House on December 18, 2014, it emerged that the members had failed to agree several issues and a member of the Committee, Workers MP Sam Lyomoki presented a Minority Report.

Lyomoki said the Constitution establishes the National Citizenship and Immigration Board in Article 16 but the new Bill sought to expunge it unconstitutionally.

It was pointed out that the Bill seeks to create an integrated database system and a National Identification and Registration Authority which will among other things manage this database accessible to all ministries, agencies and departments that deal with citizens’ registration and identification.

Currently, more than five entities –Electoral Commission, Uganda Registration Services Bureau, Uganda Bureau of Statistics, the Citizens and Immigration Board and the National Identification and Technology Authority, have the mandate to execute roles concerning registration and identification of citizens.

Led by Butambala MP MuwangaKivumbi, who is also the shadow minister for Internal Affairs, the minority report drafters argued that the Bill if passed into law would usurp the mandate of these already established entities, and was in contradiction of the laws that establish them and the constitution.

“In our view, the Bill is unconstitutional in its current form,” Lyomoki told the House, “Article 2(2) of the Constitution of Uganda states that if any other law is inconsistent with any of the provisions of the Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail.”

Lyomoki said the Constitution establishes the National Citizenship and Immigration Board in Article 16 but the new Bill sought to expunge it unconstitutionally.

The Bill also got entangled in procedure issues after those opposing it alleged that had been presented without a `Certificate of Financial Implication’. Apparently, the Ministry of Finance which issues the certificate had not issued it because it did not have a budget for the new body proposed by Nyakairima under the Bill. Some MPs alleged that the Committee had even allowed a `forged’ certificate to be attached to the report.

Gen. Aronda sullied the air around the Bill further when he told the House that, somehow, his ministry would find the Shs30 billion needed to kick-start the new body.

This prompted opposition stalwart and Budadiri west MP Nandala Mafabi to ask where Aronda proposed to get the Shs30 billion when it was not duly appropriated by the House.

The committee while reviewing the bill heard from both Ministry of Finance and Aronda’s ministry that 109 billion shillings is required to operationalise the Authority.

As pressure on Aronda mounted, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga adjourned the House. The debate over the Bill rages on.

At this point, it became clear that the government was desperate to pass this Bill. The question is why? It clearly is not merely about registering citizens.

Concern over voter register

Behind the circus, according to Muwanga Kivumbi, the major concern is on the mandate of the Electoral commission. He told The Independent that the Bill will exacerbate vote rigging if the EC is to rely on the data it has not independently collected on its own.

Clause 40(2) of the Bill provides that the Electoral Commission may use the data to compile, maintain, revise and update the voters’ register.

Kivumbi says the information is not credible enough to form a Voters’ Register and wants the clause deleted.

“Parliament should not  be  duped into  repealing a constitutional command to  Electoral Commission and hence amend the Constitution by infection, hence  submerging the  independency of  the  Electoral Commission and surrender it  to   depend on  data under the    Authority…” reads the minority report in part. “We strongly believe that Clause 40(2)  seeks to cure nothing unless the  motives are ill  and  could  have   negative impacts  in   regard  to   many  Members  of Parliament who  shall seek re-election in  2016.”

Kivumbi also argues that not everyone was registered in the recently concluded mass registration exercise and, therefore, this should not deny them their right to vote. The National ID registration project officially recorded 15.9 million people to be above 16 years of age and, therefore, eligible to vote in the 2016 elections.

But barely 12 months to the 2016 elections, registration of voters has not yet been done. When it takes place, it is almost certain that politicians; especially from the opposition, will point out anomalies and the Electoral Commission will respond as it usually does; that there is no perfect system.

One of the likely issues of contention will be the number of registered voters.  According to extrapolation done internally by The Independent, the number of eligible voters should be about 15.4 million. This figure is based on previous registrations by the Electoral Commission which placed about 44% of the population above 18 years. Recent provisional results of the 2014 Population and Housing Census placed the population at 34.9 million.  However, based on extrapolations from Electoral Commission figures, about 90% of eligible voters usually register as voters. This means that the voter register might record about 13.9 million people.

If that happens, it will imply that the voter register for the 2011 election might have had so-called `ghost voters’ or names of non-existent voters. According to official Electoral Commission figures, 13,954,129 individuals registered to vote. Of these, 8,272, 760 eventually turned-out to vote. However, official estimates place the Uganda population at 31 million people in 2011. That means that based on extrapolations of past electoral data, not more than 12.3 persons could have registered as voters. That leaves a difference of 1.6 million persons who were probably ghosts.

Sowing seeds of mistrust

It is because of such extrapolations that many leaders of the opposition, the civil society and NRM insiders who want to see a genuinely free and fair election are concerned about the processing of the voter roll for the 2016 elections. Many point out that principles provided for in Chapter 17 of the African Charter on Democracy on Elections and Governance require states to establish and strengthen independent and impartial national election bodies responsible for management of elections. They say putting the registration of voters under the Army appears to negate that.

Ndorwa East MP Wilfred Niwagaba who also opposes the Bill says that the impartiality of the people in charge of the exercise; Gen. Nyakairima and other security officers, is questionable and therefore should not be relied on to compile the Voters’ Register.

The Committee in its main report says it was advised by the Attorney General that clause 40(2) does not oblige the EC to rely on that data but allows it to use it at its own discretion.

AG Peter Nyombi in his letter to the Committee had reportedly said that Clause 40 (2) does not require the Electoral Commission to use the information contained in the register proposed to be established by the Bill but merely given the discretion to use the data in the register.

“Whereas the   Electoral commission  may   use the   data  in  the   register to  compile, maintain, revise and  update the  voters  register, there  is  no  doubt that  a person who wishes to vote  must still  register  with the  Electoral  Commission in the    manner   prescribed   by    law    or   determined   by    the    Electoral Commission. “

Officials of the Electoral Commission, when they appeared before the Committee, appeared to be in support of Gen. Nyakairima’s Bill. They, however, said the Bill does not restrict the source of information from which to compile data for the purposes of complying with the foregoing provisions.

But Kivumbi says much as the Bill is not repealing the Electoral   Commission Act, it attempts   to    hoodwink Parliament into amending a constitutional function of Electoral Commission.

Some experts, like Peninah Agaba; a lecturer in the Department of Population Studies of Makerere University, appear to support the opponents of the Bill. Agaba told The Independent that the new law should not abolish or weaken the existing departments and agencies but strengthen them to complement one another.

“What the Bill should do is to give every citizen a unique number to be linked to each individual’s data at each of the registration points,” she says.

According to her, similar entities have co-existed in other countries and carried out their duties independently.

She spoke of the United States, South Africa, and Pakistan as places she knew where registration agencies are Independent of voter registration.

Since the Committee report came up for debate for the first time and many MPs on the NRM government side supported Kivumbi’s minority report, a lot has changed. The MPs were whipped into the party position at the recent NRM retreat in early February at Kyankwanzi and they now appear determined to pass it. The NRM Caucus Vice Chairman, David Bahati, says the party does not have any covert motives other than ensuring security of Ugandans and proper planning.

“The legislation is very important to the country because for the first time we will be able to have a central register and a databank containing information about all Ugandans,” he says.

He says Ugandans should not be taking chances with their security in the face of the current terror threats.

“This bill is not important for the NRM as a party,” he said “but to everyone because it will cure duplication and wastage of resources.”

He wonders why the opposition MPs are complaining yet the bill seeks to cure the election malpractices they have been complaining about.

“The same people have been complaining that EC has been registering non-Ugandans,” he said, “why aren’t they happy that the EC will now have a clean database to rely on to maintain a credible register?” asked Bahati.

Analysts, including the Economist and Senior Manager Financial Services Inclusion at KPMG, Fred Muhumuza, also backed the centralised information system. Muhumuza told The Independent that all that was required was for the Bill to stipulate clear mechanism on how it will be implemented and if all entities agree on standards to comply with.

Renowned political analyst Frederick Golooba Mutebi also says a centralised database is an important planning tool and that a centralised database system has worked perfectly in other countries.

“Many countries have a single database,” he said, “in Rwanda there is an agency that manages the database and I’ve never heard a single Rwandan talk about it with suspicion.”

“How many people register births and deaths in Uganda?” he asked, “why so few? Parliament should ask such questions and find ways of addressing them.”

Golooba Mutebi says unnecessary controversies like those twirling around the Registration Bill are bound to happen “when there is mistrust between the government and its people”.

“That’s what happens when the government cultivates mistrust rather than trust within the people,” he said.

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