By Ronald Musoke
Eng. Badru Kiggundu, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, talked to Ronald Musoke.
What should Ugandans expect from the EC in 2015 in terms of preparations for next year’s general elections?
2015 is going to be a loaded year. We should have already done the amendments [for] electoral reforms but they have not come out yet which puts a little pressure on us. But we expect that the amendments will come soonest so that we can start updating voter education materials. We shall be preparing an updated register for use by prospective candidates. We promise this country that we shall have a better and sound (voters’) register than we had in 2010 because of improved technology. 2015 will also be a year of nominations of candidates at all levels—from local government, MPs to presidential candidates. It will also be a time to design and follow through with the designs of the ballot papers for the various levels of political representation. We will be procuring ballot papers.This is not an easy process because we don’t print ballot papers in the country for the general elections. Of course, we will do voter or civic education because it is necessary along the way.
Are you not frustrated at the current pace of electoral reforms which the EC had wanted out of the way by September, 2014?
I don’t want to put frustration ahead of optimism because your government and my government has generally financed the election in this country, with just a small percentage which is supported by development partners. So I am still confident that our government will come through. It might take some more pressure but it is not a personal choice; it is something we must do.
With all the ongoing preparations at the EC, what would you consider to be the most critical challenge ahead of the general elections?
The first one is early passage of the laws. At least we have stressed before that we need them passed early; by early, I mean latest February or early March. The other challenge is to ensure that adequate resources are available. There is already an approved level of resources but that is not adequate.
How much has been approved so far because at the launch of the election roadmap in 2013, you talked of a figure in the region of Shs 600 billion?
Don’t get me into talking figures because I am not the Accounting Officer. The approved category, however, is not standing at that level but I will not go into specifics. What was approved is less than that and we still need the funding level to build up because the cost of the items needed for the elections continue changing and therefore we need more resources.
Dr. Kizza Besigye and other opposition leaders have maintained throughout your 12 year tenure that it is impossible to beat the incumbent (President Museveni) because ‘he organises, supervises and controls the elections.’ What is your response to their remarks?
I smile to that because people should realise where they come short and if they come short they should also come forth to the population and say: I am sorry my expectations were this high, my plans were this but we fell short to realise the goal. But some of these people are not straight forward. I don’t manufacture votes. I get those [ballot] boxes from out there; the votes are counted on site and when the totals are done at each polling station, each political party gets a copy [of the results]. So they will have no absolute reason to say their votes were not counted properly. People forget that in any competition, whether in classroom or on a football pitch, one of the teams will win. So for them to hold that it is because of this Commission, I pray for them. I don’t know whether the next Commission will be comprised of the Pope’s representatives or some other creamy people because that is what they want. I still think we have done a credible job for this country as far as carrying out elections is concerned. I still think we hold the tenacity, resolve, and ability to deliver.
The independence of the EC has also been contested by the opposition political actors and other political observers yet you have insisted that the EC is an independent institution. What are your reasons for maintaining this position?
I look at what the law provides and I don’t think I have portrayed lack of independence. We are independent but their way of understanding independence is different from the way we understand it and maybe we shall never feel the same way. If they are unhappy with the composition of the EC, then they should question the constitution not the individual.We shall continue to exercise our independence. I need to remind them that it is important that we maintain the interaction with key stakeholders. I must interact with Parliament because they make the laws and I must interact with the Executive because that is where the money comes from. I cannot close those windows and if that is the way they understand lack of demonstration of independence, my sympathies. But I must maintain decision making because it is the core of that independence.
An EU election observer mission report about the 2011 general elections noted that those polls showed some improvements in comparison to the 2006 election. Still, the report noted that the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandans being disenfranchised.
How different has the EC responded to ensure that these failures don’t occur again?
Some of the observations, not just by the EU, but by other organisations have been noted. However, regarding the issue of disenfranchisement of Ugandans, my take is that they have a different measure and I have a different one. Those who claim to be disenfranchised are those who are not ready to participate when the process defines the trend of activities to be done. For instance, if I roll out an update and you do not come to be updated, don’t blame me. Secondly, we normally do a display of voters’ particulars but if you don’t come to vet whether actually your particulars are correct, don’t blame me. There is even a window of natural justice which was provided. For instance, should you be recommended for deletion from that register at your polling station for some reason, that list is supposed to be pinned at the parish for another seven to 10 days, for people to go and look at that list. Does someone claim that I am dead or that I shifted my residence but I am still here?That window is for rectifying those small recommendations. But if you don’t show up, how do you put the blame on Kiggundu or the commission? But we have tried to address some of the points raised together with other observers, not only the EU’s. Those proposals which need addressing in law or review are presented for amendment; however, if they are procedural, we try to address them.
The same EU report noted that the power of incumbency was exercised to an extent that was deemed to compromise severely the level playing field between the competing candidates and political parties. Does the EC have enough clout to rein in an incumbent president who is contesting an election that they badly want to win?
In any country which has got a sitting head of state who intends to become a candidate, I have not seen the president relinquish the office and go for his or her campaign. They stay in that office and get out to do their campaign. Secondly, when he or she goes to do their campaign, they use official machinery. Here in Uganda, whenever, there is a law that is put together to prescribe what facilities are open to a candidate who is a sitting president and it is tabled before Parliament and it is passed, who is Kiggundu to say otherwise? But for operational activities where I have responsibility and authority, we do and I am on record. We have banned a number of times several activities during campaigns—but we only ban what is within the legal framework of our operations—that I have no doubt about. But the judgement is in the eyes of the beholder.
What would you say have been some of the success stories over the last 12 years as you worked towards the EC’s vision of becoming a model institution and centre of excellence for election management?
We have done a lot of improvements and history will tell if those who will write it are fair. We have tremendously improved the register; we have improved the administration of the voting process and we have improved the transmission and dissemination of results from polling stations; from the districts to the national tallying centre. No other country has succeeded as much as we have done in transmitting results electronically—all by wireless communication. When I talk about improvements in the voters’ register, there is a revolution coming. We shall have a biometric representation of every voter in 2016. We have been struggling to get rid of multiple appearances and voting; this time around, it won’t be possible for those who want to play monkey tricks. A voter’s particulars will only appear at one polling station. But we have also come up with a contribution to violence control; for instance, the limitation of the number of people who escort candidates to nomination venues. Before we came in, it used to be droves following the would-be candidate to the nomination centre. That was nonsense. We said we will not tolerate that and we stopped it from Day One.
How about some of your failures from which the next EC boss can definitely learn?
In 2003, we came up with this idea of biometric registration and we hoped this would save us from a lot of complaints and technical errors. We went ahead and even implemented a model. We bought some equipment(registration unit—a computer with camera and thumbprint) from South Africa and we rolled out in a number of parishes but when we went out to ask for money, it couldn’t happen. That was a setback to us. After the 2006 general elections, we thought we would implement that for the 2011 elections, but the actual implementation took place in 2010 which was too late to actualize the whole preparation of the would be registrants to get onto the biometric. We only got five million voters who were captured by biometric. There are times when we want more operational equipment like vehicles but the districts are too many. We need a brand new vehicle for each of those districts at the beginning of each general election due to the roughness of the roads but sometimes it is not possible to get brand new recapitalisation. The state of welfare of my employees, including us commissioners is still very dismal. We have tried as far as 2005 but we have not been lucky to get a listening ear but we cannot stay complaining all the time.
So hasn’t this affected the way your staff do their work during elections?
What is amazing is that my people have got a high level of motivation because we know for sure that an election outcome is the mother of political stability in this country. So when the time comes, we tend to forget the welfare package and run to make sure the job is done. Otherwise failure would be inexcusable.
What invaluable piece of advice would you give to the Chairperson who will succeed you after 2016?
When you come here, be prepared not to be reactive because there are so many nuisances and innuendoes that come your way. So be prepared to have a thick skin and the fact that somebody has barked at you does not mean you have to bark back, otherwise, both of you will be dogs.
Your last word to Ugandans?
I am very confident we shall have a peaceful 2016 general election. Let us be prepared to work together and let us look at each other with favourable attitude. If we are to criticise each other, that should be on merit and if you are to offer options, let them be in compliance with the law.