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Museveni’s billions dominate 2016 campaigns

By Haggai Matsiko

People’s donations to Besigye promote political accountability, experts

  • Mbabazi’s election spend falling

Kiiza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) has collected over Shs100 million worth of donations from supporters during this campaign, estimates indicate. On average he has been collecting Shs1.5 million per rally according to FDC Secretary General, Nandala Mafabi.

All the money Besigye has got from these donations remains a tiny fraction of the Shs5.7 billion that the man he aims to defeat, President Yoweri Museveni, raised from only 33 moneyed well-wishers between May and June last year.

But, according to a coalition of civil society groups that monitors the financing of political and electoral processes in the country, the money Besigye is getting from supporters at his rallies represents the most positive trend of the 2016 elections.

The main reason the observers give is that while donations to Museveni, the least of which was Shs 100 million, came from the super-rich who are keen to protect their business interests, the bulk of Besigye’s, the least of which is Shs500 come from mostly the poor and middle income earners, who are just keen to support their favorite candidate.

The Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), who on Jan.21 published a report detailing trends in election expenditure by parties, parliamentary and presidential elections ahead of the 2016 elections, says the practice of ordinary citizens making donations towards political candidates during campaigns needs to be strongly encouraged.

Already some parliamentary candidates and Presidential candidates like Abed Bwanika are copying the trend. Bwanika was seen asking supporters in Masaka to contribute towards his fuel expenses and they did.

This trend has now trickled down to parliamentary candidates, the report notes. ACFIM observers in Iganga Municipality reported that FDC flag bearer in the race for Member of Parliament, Nasser Mudyobole, while at a campaign rally in Kasokoso, Iganga Municipality, was observed receiving financial and in-kind contributions from some of the citizens that came to his rally.

This is a paradigm shift in Uganda’s political culture that should be encouraged because it is critical to restoring political accountability to the citizens, the report added.

“When poor voters make donations to their leaders,” says Henry Muguzi, the ACFIM coordinator, “it puts them in position to demand accountability from these leaders because it is clear they sent the leaders there unlike when they are bought.”

Previously, President Museveni has been getting funds from the super-rich, the business community. He, in turn, has been splashing this cash on the poor.

Perhaps sensing that receiving donations from locals has become trendy, President Museveni on Jan.17 noted that party supporters have contributed over 300 cattle and cash.

But for Medard Sseggona, President Museveni’s election spend is down to corruption.

“NRM has no known source of income,” Sseggona told The Independent, “Museveni does not pay for the fuel he uses. The security is paid allowance from state coffers. Generally, the bulk of what he uses in these campaigns and to lure politicians to his camp is from classified expenditure.”

What Sseggona forgot to mention is that while opposition candidates have to use personal resources to make donations, Museveni is on record saying he uses state funds to donate to institutions like churches. He has budgetary allocations of up to Shs90 billion for presidential donations under the State House budget.

Many critics see these donations as aimed at vote-buying.

Sseggona is hopeful that all this will end with new legal reforms by the 10th parliament, which Museveni will not fail as he will have been kicked out of government.

Meanwhile, ACFIM’s new report shows President Museveni and his ruling party dwarfing the entire opposition at all these forms of election spending.

ACFIM shows that between November and December, President Museveni spent almost 12 times more than his two closest opponents combined on his presidential campaign over the past two months.

Across the 16 districts that ACFIM studied in November and December, Museveni spent in excess of Shs 27 billion or 91.6% of the total minimum expenditure, Amama Mbabazi spent Shs. 1.3 billion (4.6 %). Besigye spent 977 million (3.3 %). The rest of the candidates spent less than 1.0% combined.

Some presidential candidates have been spending more money as the campaign heats up, but others are spending even less. Maureen Faith Kyalya, the only woman in the race, has been spending the least. But in December, she cut that down even farther by 47%. Mbabazi also cut spending by 41%.

However, the rest of the candidates increased their expenditure with Kizza Besigye leading the way with an increase of 554%. That means that for every Shs1000 that Besigye was spending in November, he was now spending about Shs600,000. President Museveni also opened his wallet even more by 354% increase, Baryamureba Venansius (105%), Abed Bwanika (36%) and Joseph Mabirizi Joseph by 29%.

Away from the personal spending of the candidates, Museveni’s ruling NRM party is also the biggest spender. It had spent Shs121 billion by end of December 2015. That figure is 87.9 percent of money spent by all the parties.  Besigye’s FDC spent Shs3 billion and Mbabazi’s Go-Forward spent Shs1.5 billion.

Most of this money is spent on buying handout materials like hoes, seeds, food, sugar, cooking pans, and salt. Money is also spent on the media, campaign materials, rallies, consultative meetings, and campaign administration among others.

ACFIM notes that on average, minimum expenses on handout materials increased by 165% between the two months. The biggest increase was in expenses for Seeds (1069%), followed by Salt at 250% then food at 154%.

Apart from these, hoes took (21.1%), Food (21.1%), Sugar (20.0%), cooking pans (15.7%), Seeds (8.6%), Salt (8.3%) and others (5.2%).

The media is also swallowing a lot of cash. All Electronic & Print Media expenses increased by an overall average of 293%. The biggest increase was in Talk Shows (391%), followed by facilitation for journalists (305%) and then Radio Adverts/Jingles (253%). Some of these offers to journalists are a form of corruption because media houses pay their journalist to cover the campaign.

On journalists’ facilitation, the report shows that Museveni has a team of 20 local journalists following him on the campaign trail, and each receives Shs 150,000 per day. Journalists following Mbabazi receive a minimum of Shs 40,000 and those covering Besigye receive much less. It is difficult for a journalist who is paid by a candidate to write the truth about the campaign. Often, such journalists write to please the candidate and conflicts have erupted between some media houses and candidates who want only material of their choice to be published.

Amongst campaign materials, branded Kitenges took the lions share at 1252%, followed by Shirts at 726% and then Bandanas at 564%. The least increase was in Banners at 49%, Wrist Bands at 84% and Billboards at 132%.

ACFIM also notes that minimum expenses during event/rally/consultative meetings in the 16 districts increased by a combined rate of 471% with the exception of the public address which reduced by 20%. The biggest increment were witnessed in donations by candidates with an increase of 828%, followed by cash to voters and agents at 801%, ambulances at 447% and water at 338%, the report adds, the least increments were in musicians/entertainment at 57%, tents (116%) and alcohol (121%).

ACFIM notes that the donations by candidates was the biggest expense during event/rally/consultative meetings with 44.2% of the total, followed by physical cash to voters/agents (30.8%) and then transport refund to event attendees (10.6%).

Majority of the donations have gone to churches (66%), schools got 8%, women groups 4 %, mosques 3 % and youth groups 2 %.

ACFIM’s Muguzi says this is a new trend. He says that churches are getting more donations because individuals are tending to stay away from them owing to more awareness. They see these donations as bribes.

“The other reason is that when politicians donate to churches, they feel like they have touched the soft souls of believers,” he said.

Apart from these, some other two spending trends have emerged—voter hospitality and voter tourism.

These two are part of the bigger problem of voter bribery owing to which the 2016 election is set to be the most expensive in Uganda’s history, according to Muguzi.

ACFIM defines voter tourism as the practice by candidates where voters are provided with buses, trucks, minibuses or cars and driven from their homes to campaign rallies or around the constituency as an inducement to voters in return for their support come polling day.

Voter hospitality on the other hand, is a situation where political candidate host voters to a banquet or party or meal or retreat where are treated to a good meal, animals slaughtered and cooked or roasted, lots of drinks including booze, music/disco, live entertainment and sometimes lodging in a comfortable hotel, motel or lodge, ACFIM says.

“Political candidates that have been observed to engage in campaign tactics like voter tourism and voter hospitality in November and December, do not do so because they are generous, but because they expect recipients to return the favour,” ACFIM states, “The timing of these offers in the middle of an election campaign and the nature of intended beneficiaries for this generosity is clear manifestation that the aim is to induce voters in return for their support on February 18th, 2016. This clearly is voter bribery.”

Muguzi argues that voter tourism and voter hospitality have emerged because of increasing poverty, redundancy and unemployment.

“Candidates realise that some people especially in urban centres do not have food, so they cook for them,” Muguzi says, “candidates also realise that some people have never sat in a vehicle and when they drive them around, the voters feel endeared to them.”

Generally, all this spending favours the incumbent and speaks to the power of incumbency, Muguzi argues. “This financial muscle is likely to translate into more support because you are able to reach more people and explain to more people but that is at the presidential level,” Muguzi says.

However, for MPs, this spending does not translate into victory. “Otherwise,” Muguzi says, “you would not have had about 140 NRM incumbents losing primaries.”

Muguzi says there is also more competition at the parliamentary level because for the first time, the FDC has fielded candidates in majority of the constituencies and GoFoward has also field nearly as many candidates.

“It is this competition that explains higher spending at the parliamentary race level,” Muguzi says.

Apart from direct bribery, ACFIM observers reported mainly incidents of misuse of government vehicles to transport voters to campaign rallies/events.

On Nov.9, last year a number of government vehicles were used on candidate Museveni’s rally held at Kasana Play Ground.

ACFIM has called on the Electoral Commission, the police and Inspectorate of Government to consider investigating the breaches in electoral laws on voter bribery and misuse of government resources for campaigns.

“Once brought to the attention the office of the Director Public Prosecutions,” the report notes, “prosecutors must take the cases seriously and bring them to court expeditiously.”

ACFIM also wants the Justice Ministry to consider amending legal provisions on voter bribery in the Presidential Elections Act 2005 and Parliamentary Elections Act 2005 to strengthen punishments against voter bribery.

“In addition voter bribery should be redefined to include all actions that are aimed at inducing or influencing citizens to vote for particular candidates as revealed in this report,” the report notes.These should be qualified as acts of voter bribery. Candidates convicted of voter bribery should be banned from contesting any elections for at least five years. Uganda needs a specific law to regulate campaign financing.”

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