By Flavia Nassaka
On April 20, the Electoral Commission (EC) called a press conference to announce developments in compilation of the Voters’ Register for the 2016 national elections. The EC said aspiring voters needed to visit registration centres at their parishes to verify their data.
But the event got entangled in controversy over the EC’s announcement that information displayed at the various parishes was extracted from the National Identification Register.
Opposition politicians immediately criticised the EC decision.
“I lost hope for a clean register the moment they announced that data collected by the army would be used in coming up with the register,” Democratic Party’s Secretary General Mathias Nsubuga.
He told The Independent that many non-Ugandans were registered during the National ID project as part of the National Security Information System (NSIS). Some members of parliament, including Abdul Katuntu (Bugweri County) and Medard Seggona (Busiro East) say using the national ID data “could be an avenue for vote rigging”.
The NSIS was mooted in 2014 for purposes of issuing the national identity cards. It was immediately buffeted by criticism of the strong presence of soldiers in its leadership, starting at the top with Gen. Aronda Nyakairima. He is the Minister of Internal Affairs which oversees NSIS.
However, NSIS has sought to distance itself from army over-lordship presents itself as a multi-sectoral organisation that brings together teams from government ministries departments, and agencies like the Immigration Department, the Electoral Commission, Bureau of Statistics, NITA-U, and the ministries Local Government, Finance, Security. Security agencies such as the UPDF and Police are also involved. The NSIS is headed by Col. Stephen Kwiringira who was the head of Information Technology in the army. Kwiringira directly reports to Gen. Aronda.
As NSIS was being criticised over its army links, its reputation was tattered by sections of the public saw loopholes in the manner in which it executed the national ID data collection. There were delays in registration across the country and many regions outside Kampala have not received national IDs. Even under the current exercise, there have reports of its officials demanding bribes to register citizens.
John Mwirima, the national coordinator of the Citizens Watch-IT Uganda, a consortium of six organizations that monitor government programmes and activities said the EC should have collected its own data.
He said the EC decision to use data “from elsewhere”, contravenes Chapter 17 of the African Charter on Democracy and Governance. He said this charter requires governments to set up an independent election body that collects, compiles, and verifies information to be used in national elections.
Meanwhile, the EC Chairman, Badru Kiggundu, says those criticisms are baseless. While appearing on a talk show on WBS TV on April 20, he quoted Clause 40 (2) of the Registration of Persons law that, he said, allows the commission to use the data from NSIS. He also assured the public that the register will be clean since after including those who will have been registered during the ongoing update, the register will be channeled back to the Kololo NSIS center for further verification before the final register is released in August.
“Multi sector participation is helping,” he said, “the EC has no capability to determine who is a citizen and who is not.”
When contacted, the EC’s publicist, Paul Bukenya, said asking the EC to compile its register from scratch would be a waste the scarce resources since the entities use the same technology. Bukenya said delays in issuing of national identity cards to people outside Kampala would not affect voting.
“There is no need for a card for one to cast a vote. It’s the appearance on one’s name in the register that matters.”