In 2016 many spent Shs500m -1bn
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | Money–and a lot of it this time—will be the choice campaigning tool for both incumbents and challengers in the 2021 presidential and parliamentary polls, according to a study by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring-Uganda.
The civil society group that tracks election financing in Uganda shows that if the past two electoral cycles (2011 and 2016) were characterised by“spending wars” between political parties and electoral candidates, 2021 will take it to another level.
The Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring predicts that because money will likely be the mainstream electoral issue in 2021, the combined figure of campaign expenditure could more than double that which was spent in 2016.
This is because candidates are expressing strong willingness to pay for votes while campaign agents and voters are expressing insatiable desire to take in as much gifts and cash as possible from candidates.
“The men and women who offer themselves for elections at different electoral levels believe that being elected as political leaders is a guarantee that ‘things will come’,” the report says.
The report on the study titled: “Unregulated Campaign Spending and its impact on Electoral Participants in Uganda” was released in Kampala on Oct. 01. It shows how the cost of contesting for a political seat has been rising over the last 20 years since multi-party democracy was restored in 1996. Each of the five election cycles has often left contestants, both winners and losers, financially bruised.
The Alliance predicts that contestants for the MP position in 2021 will need between Shs500 million (US$137,000) and Shs1billion (US$ 274,000) to spend. Meanwhile, contestants for district LCV chairperson seats at local government level will likely part with between Shs300 million (US$ 82,000) and Shs500 million (US$ 137,000).
Henry Muguzi, the executive director of ACFIM and co-author of the report says Ugandan MPs spend four of their five years’ term in Parliament trapped in debt and when they are voted out, they remain “economically battered, shattered, tattered and tattooed.”
“The political leader in Uganda enters political office spending, lives the entire tenure spending and comes out of office spending,” he said, “For those who fail in the election, the situation is even much worse than you can imagine.” Muguzi blames the commercialization of politics.
A related study done by the same organisation on campaign spending for the 2016 elections estimated that at least Shs 2.4 trillion was spent by political parties and candidates on presidential and parliamentary election campaigns countrywide.
The study collected views from 428 former MP candidates, Woman MPs, LC V Chairpersons and councillors, mayors, campaign managers, political parties, and candidates for youth positions in the districts of Arua, Hoima, Kamwenge, Mbarara, Iganga and Mbarara who had participated in the 2015-2018 electoral cycle.
Respondents were asked to rank the influence of money on electoral outcomes on a continuum of 1-8 where 1 is the lowest and 8 is the highest. The majority of them representing 374 responses (87.9%) gave a rank ranging 5-8 with 117 giving money as the highest influencer of electoral outcomes with a rank of 8.
The respondents also argued that money posed a barrier to people that have the right skills, knowledge, attitudes and experience to enter the electoral arena.
Many youth aged 18-35 years who were interviewed for this study revealed that they find it challenging to participate in politics due to high cost of contesting with the majority noting that nomination fees lock them out of meaningful electoral participation.
Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) told The Independent on Oct.04 that the fact that Uganda does not have an upper limit on how much a candidate can spend and where these candidates get this money for elections is a big problem.
Sewanyana told The Independent that although politics is supposed to be a service to people, it has instead become a source of employment.
“That is why people are willing to spend as much as possible including taking loans,” he said.
Sewanyana told The Independent that a law on election financing would go a long way in creating an enabling environment that would let people with good ideas vie for political office.
The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) recently proposed a ceiling on the amount of money a candidate can spend on an election at all levels.
Justine Kasule Lumumba, the party’s Secretary General told the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee on Sept. 17 that the NRM wants every presidential candidate to declare and file with the Electoral Commission a copy of their campaign budget at the time of nomination.
The Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee is currently collecting views on five electoral reforms Bills which were recently tabled by William Byaruhanga, the Attorney General.
The Bills include the Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, the Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, the Political Parties and Organization (Amendment) Bill and the Local Governments (Amendment) Bill.
Lumumba’s proposals followed her support for the government proposal to amend the Presidential Elections Act to compel candidates to declare their source of funds for financing campaigns.
Lumumba said the amendment is necessary to curb interference in the country’s politics by foreign hostile states or organisations but hastened to add that the candidates should also provide their campaign budgets as well as declare assets and liabilities to the Inspectorate of Government.
Cost of campaigns
According to the report, there is a growing perception within the electorate that a Member of Parliament, for instance, must offer them cash and gifts.
“At times when he/she resists, the electorate may blackmail the MP by pretending to be paying more allegiance to the challenger – so called “MP to be,” the report reads in part.
“As soon as new political office bearers are sworn into office for a fresh five year term, their challengers in the next election swing into action.”
“They start referring to themselves as either “MP to be” or “Mayor to be” or “Councillor to be” depending on the position they aspire for.”
These so called “to be’s” the report notes start socializing with the electorate; donating generously towards funerals, weddings or to fundraisings in places of worship.
In order to undo any gains by the challenger, the incumbent is forced to pour in more money. “By the time the next campaign period comes, the incumbent will have spent in excess of Shs 800 million (US$200,000) already,” says the report.
This, the report says, explains why despite ranking among the highest paid public officers in the country, the economic situation for some MPs is said to be tough. Some MPs in the current House have been arrested over failure to pay loans taken from money lenders.