By Julius Odeke
Badru Kiggundu has been chairman of the Uganda Electoral Commission and managed national elections in 2006 and 2011. He spoke to The Independent’sJulius Odeke about why he is `as white as a white cock’.
Butaleja is set for the woman MP by-election; will it be free and fair?
There is no doubt. I have just returned from there; campaigns are going on well. My appeal to the candidates and their supporters is that they should be very vigilant and cooperative with EC to help us achieve a free and fair election.
How much money will EC spend on the by-election?
Close to Shs600 million because many things have to be done such as updating the registers in every polling station, at parish levels, and other locations. Butaleja has 150 polling stations; the Electoral commission had to put in place the tribunal members, officials who took charge of the displaying, and cleaning exercise. Then we have to prepare, recruit, train and then to deploy those officers who will man all the elections. The human resource alone is expensive; say catering for the security.
Opposition parties want an all-inclusive EC where all political parties are represented based on a multi-party system. What plans do you have in line with that?
I am not the one who plays that role. It’s the appointing authority who knows what to do but not me.
You are the longest serving EC boss. When are you handing-over to someone new?
I must appreciate the creator who gave me life and the appointing authority, and the parliament of Uganda, then the population. While the few don’t appreciate, many like and do admire my work. About leaving the commission, my contract will run out on November 17, 2016. Thereafter the appointing authority will have to decide.
Some political analysts say you as the EC boss don’t declare the rightful winner but declare President Museveni. What happens?
That is a misnomer. In Uganda, I have 24,000 polling stations with an improved system that everything was electronically done. I receive information from the district registrars’ offices to the central system in an electronic manner. We had ports for the media, Electoral Commission and both the local and international observers where we shared information. That is why nobody went to court in the 2011 elections.
After the 2011 elections, it was said your family, after witnessing many people being killed and shot at by the military on Kampala streets, urged you to step aside from heading the commission, why didn’t you listen?
I don’t remember any member of my family coming to me telling me daddy or honey please resign from heading that commission for its causing harm on your public image or on them as part of my family. My family knows that daddy does not walk away from problems. It would be a defeatist.
Opposition leaders think you are only serving the interests of the ruling NRM party but not the nation. What do you make of such accusations?
First let me laugh at it because the laws of Uganda are very clear and they do not provide that I should favour the ruling party. This is just a perception and the problem within opposition leaders. I tell you what happens when an opposition candidate say an MP wins in a by-election, these opposition leaders are quick to say that I am a friend but the moment they lose in any election that is when they come up accusing me. Let me tell you one thing, how the people of Moyo perceive me; they say I am as white as a white cock. Look at this sculpture of the white cock I was given as a gift and a sign of appreciation by my brothers and sisters in Moyo district for the successful elections that they had in their district because they were very organised.
After elections, some candidates have their wins nullified on grounds of possessing forged academic documents. What happens, does the EC check their documents before declaring them rightful nominees?
We check their papers as provided by law but anything to do with academic qualifications for those candidates who studied from other countries say in Kenya or Tanzania such candidates are vetted by the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE) and then they are given certificates. Once NCHE says your papers are okay, the returning officer has no right to turn you away even if he/she realised there was a mistake in your papers. When someone complains, even when you have been sworn-in, we confirm with the institution the candidate claims to have attended. If we realise that it’s true the papers are forged then we cancel because we do not want you to waste the taxpayer’s money.
Why hasn’t EC organised elections for the LC One Councils?
There is a provision in the laws that need to be addressed to make it cheaper. Once the law is amended and money made ready then there would be no cause of alarm. I want thank the chairpersons at the LC one level because they are doing voluntary work. It is not a civil service position. However, as soon as resources are in place elections will be held. Parliament should amend the General Law Act and the Women Council Act.
To-date those former LC One chairpersons are still in office. Are they holding those offices officially or illegally?
Why is it that Ugandans continue to search for them for their signatures and stamps whenever they need to sell their pieces of land or whenever they are moving from one place to another? That tells you what role and position those LC one chairpersons are playing in our country. They cannot handover offices because there is no one whom they can handover those instruments of power. Things like stamps and even books where important information was recorded are very important to their offices.
How much money does commission need to organise for those LC ones elections countrywide?
At first the EC needed Shs128 billion, but the government asked it to reorganise and reduce the cost. But parliament needs to amend the law then it would be Shs78 billion.
World over, it’s a common practice for presidential candidates to engage in a presidential debates; the FDC’s electoral commission organised one for its candidates in November 22, 2012. Is the national EC, the one you are heading planning to have one in 2016?
Yes, FDC party did conduct a presidential debate that was good but this is always possible when you have more than one presidential candidate in the competition. For the case of NRM the party has for a long time had only one presidential candidate that makes it difficult to organise a debate. To organise a presidential debate is not the mandate of Electoral Commission; it’s the initiative of Civil Society. If the civil societies in Uganda can do it, it is a good thing that we should have in our country.
The USA re-elected President Barack Obama in 2012. What was your assessment of that election?
I watched the elections from a far but what I realized was that in the US it’s the public media industry that declares the results; it’s an interesting electoral culture which does not happen here in Uganda. I still need to understand the rationale and founding principles of the electoral colleges, its source of pride where the losing candidate recognises and congratulates the winner. I would hope for that in our system here. Across the world, no election is ever done successfully without problems as long as the electoral processes are manned by human beings. The US operates in a mature and democratic system where the projections can say so and so is ahead but we are still learning. Democracy in Uganda is still evolving. We shall continue learning.
Are you thinking of introducing electronic tallying of ballots in 2016 like Ghana did in its 2012 general elections?
On the whole continent Uganda is the only convener and practitioner of the biometrically voting system. We did not get to 100% and Ghana was ahead of us. However, in 2011 we benefited from biometric system and come 2016 we shall be at par with Ghana.