The Ministers of Finance, Gender and Local Government on Thursday skipped a Parliamentary Local Government and Public Service committee session to discuss funding and modalities of the Local Council elections due January 17, 2017.
Finance minister Matia Kasaija and gender minister Janat Mukwaya sent commissioners to represent them while local government minister Tom Butime sent his personal assistant Benjamin Wesonga.
The committee is scrutinizing the Local Governments (Amendment) Bill 2016 and the failure of the ministers to appear has drawn the ire of members who regard their conduct as disrespectful.
A member of the committee, shadow local government minister Betty Nambooze Bakireke said the ministers were taking the committee for a ride.
“This is so disappointing. How can we invite ministers and they instead send their junior officers without any explanation and apologies?”
The no show by the ministers left the members divided on whether to go ahead with the committee report and report to the whole house without the ministers’ input.
On Wednesday, the committee chaired by Igara West MP Raphael Magezi held a meeting behind closed doors to reach a consensus on the crisis funding for the forthcoming polls.
The director of operations at the Electoral Commission Leonard Mulekwa told members that the commission requires sh15.9 billion to conduct the elections while the minister of finance, planning and economic development Kasaija maintained that the government can only afford to release sh10 billion.
The Local Governments (Amendment) Bill
During the plenary sitting on December 21, 2016, government presented to parliament the Local Governments (Amendment) Bill to provide changes to the existing law in preparation for planned Local Council (LC) elections next month.
In the bill, presented by the Minister of Local Government, Col. Tom Butime, government proposes a reduction of the time of display of the voters’ rolls from 21 days to two days in respect to the elections at the lower administrative units.
Government is also proposing a reduction in the campaigning period from seven to one day.
Government recently announced that only sh10billion, a reduction from sh37b initially planned, would be allocated for the Local Council elections in January 2017. These are the first elections since 2001.
The bill also seeks to give power to the Electoral Commission to determine objections arising from the display of the voters’ roll in accordance with the Local Governments Act.
According to the Bill, for the purposes of the village, parish and ward elections, the period of display of the voters’ roll under the Electoral Commission Act, shall be at least two days.
The minister said in the preamble to the bill that a 21 days display of voters’ rolls causes delay in holding of the elections.
“The amendments are intended to facilitate the holding of elections for administrative units in a more cost effective manner,” said Butime.
Butime further stated that the arrangement would allow voters to line up behind the candidates of their choice for LCI and II elections arguing that this would reduce the cost of the elections.
He had indicated that the money would go into human resource and logistics for the 7,409 LC2s and 57,792 LC1s across the country.
However, according to the electoral commission, the sh10b budget is still small and cannot cover the voter display exercise, setting up of a tribunal to hear complaints and nominations of candidates, among others.
The Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, referred the Bill to the Committee on Public Service and Local Government, which she asked to consider it expeditiously so that the elections are held on January 17, 2017.
Kadaga also said that if there is need, the house, which broke off for the Christmas and New Year recess on the same day, would be recalled to consider and approve the Bill.
The committee will on Friday meet civil society organizations, political parties and the public to get their views on the bill.
Uganda has not conducted elections for LC1 and LC2 for the last 15 years, with the last one held in 2001 before the country shifted from the Movement to the multi-party system of governance.
Attempts to hold the elections in 2006 were put on hold by a court ruling that agreed with petitioner Major (Rtd) Rubaramira Ruranga that local councils elected under the movement system became unconstitutional when the country adopted a multiparty political system.
Court ruled that the law then did not cater for LC elections.
It however, remains unclear as to whether the polls will be held with just a fortnight to the elections.