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Political party funding

By John Njoroge & Obed Katureebe

President Museveni lays trap that will finish off the opposition

In June 2008 the Ugandan government proposed an amendment to the 2005 Political Parties and Organisations Act to provide for public funding of registered political parties. The amendment declared that funds would be allocated to parties according to their numerical strength in Parliament.

The proposed amendment met a lukewarm reception. Many argued that the law would both weaken those young parties that have no parliamentary representation and provide a big boon to the ruling NRM, which owing to its 70 percent majority in Parliament would walk away with the lion’s share of funds. The NRM’s ability to mobilise far greater financial resources than its opponents has been a major factor in the party’s three consecutive election wins, notwithstanding vote-rigging.

On July 18, the major political parties held a dialogue over the bill. The main participants ‘” Paul Kawanga Ssemogerere (who presented the bill to the group), Sebaana Kizito (DP), Kizza Besigye (FDC), Ogenga Latigo (FDC, chaired the dialogue), Kibirige Mayanja, John Ken Lukyamuzi (CP), Chris Opoka (UPC), Dick Odur, Winnie Kabesigye and Charles Bakkabulindi (NRM) ‘” said they welcomed the idea of public funding of parties, but all the opposition representatives were against the proposed mode of financial allocation.

‘Those of us who don’t have members in the house will get nothing, yet we have supporters and are mandated by the constitution to participate in the politics of this country,’ said one participant.

Other sceptics are concerned that the law would present the government with a golden opportunity to gag its rivals by denying or delaying funds when needed.

Lining your enemies’ pockets

Although the proposed amendment would cement the NRM’s financial advantage, the government seems to be growing cold on its own proposed amendment, due to the financial obligations it would place upon the state. (The amendment is still at the consultation stage; a full parliamentary debate and vote can be expected before the 2011 election.)

‘I don’t think the government of Uganda has the money to give to all 35 registered political parties,’ says Electoral Commission Secretary Sam Rwakojo. ‘If the government gave any money, it would be like a token to help in the campaigns of these parties,’ he added.

If the proposal is passed, Uganda can expect a stampede in the registration of political parties as individuals and groups organise themselves to seek a slice of the state-funding pie. In the long run, parties would be likely to face competition for budgetary allocations with other sectors of the economy.

Yet there are genuine arguments for state funding of parties. The costs of running a national political campaign in Uganda are sky-high. This is why most of the country’s 35 parties are not even known to many Ugandans.

At the moment, the Electoral Commission provides two official vehicles to every candidate for the duration of campaigns; one for the candidate and the other for police escorts. It also provides fuel and pays daily allowances to these escorts. Other than this, the parties are left to fend for themselves.

Do parties need state funding?

Nevertheless, not all opposition parties are clamouring for state funds. The FDC’s Ogenga Latigo explains. ‘Campaigns are expensive. In the last elections FDC had about Shs 700 million, which came from a mixture of individual contributions, supporters in the diaspora and members of the business community, some of whom do not want to be disclosed. We are capable of matching NRM’s financial strength by impact.’

Latigo draws a contrast between the way the FDC deploys its funds and the spending of the NRM. ‘We use 90 percent of our funds for mobilisation. 70 percent of the NRM’s money is used for bribery. Less than 20 percent of their money does legitimate work. They also have access to state machineries, funds and resources. We use what we have, yet we give them hell.’

The Electoral Commission’s Sam Rwakojo expresses scepticism towards Latigo’s figures. ‘The FDC must have used more than Shs 700, or even Shs 1 billion,’ he said. ‘Each party would need to have its agents in all the 20,000 polling stations countrywide. These agents will need to be paid good daily allowances so as not to be open to corruption by opposition parties. If, for example, the FDC paid the agents Shs 10,000 daily for two days, that would come to Shs 400 million. What about campaigns that stretched for over three months? How did they handle the cost?’

Chris Opoka, the UPC’s assistant general secretary, likewise says his party does not starve from lack of funds. ‘We have supporters abroad and here in Uganda. We also have party activities from which we make profits and save money for elections. Remember, the UPC is one of the oldest parties in this country. We have a firm base. Nevertheless, we do not shy away from what the EC offers during campaigns.’

So will government ever fund the opposition? Opoka is sceptical. ‘It would be a good thing if parties had access to funds, but it should be done uniformly. This is, however, not possible. The NRM will continue to control state resources until it leaves power.’

Ogenga Latigo, the leader of the opposition, told the Independent that any state funding would probably be too small to have a real impact on parties’ campaigning efforts. He also expressed his doubt that the government would agree to provide funds to its electoral rivals: ‘I think it would be a big mistake for any opposition party to have financial expectations on this government. How do you expect an enemy to give you ammunition to fight it?’

The dangers of corruption

As 2011 draws nearer, the fears in opposition circles are that those in powerful positions in the NRM will use their authority and offices to gather public funds and resources unlawfully which they would later convert into liquidity to facilitate their political ambitions.

Latigo has a warning for them. ‘Resources are nothing without goodwill, intention and conviction. Many pretend to support the NRM because they want to eat money. Sooner, not later, the NRM will be defeated, and all those who have meddled with public funds will he held accountable.’

According to Kabula County MP James Kakooza, the NRM gave each of its candidates in the 2006 election Shs 3 million. Kakooza says the party has enough money to see it through the 2011 election with or without state funding. ‘We have collected over Shs 6 billion in the last two years, and we are still going strong. The NRM MPs remit 10 percent while ministers remit over 16 percent of their monthly pay to the party,’ he said. ‘In fact, we are targeting over Shs 30 billion before the election. We should have realised this money a long time ago, but President Museveni refused to allow the business community to contribute because of the attendant problems that come with their contributions.’

The political party funding project is being received with a lot of scepticism in the academic world. Dr Sally Simba of Makerere University’s political science department says parties should be left to generate their own money. ‘Ugandan political parties have failed to instill in their followers a sufficient level of ideological conviction such that the followers want to contribute to them,’ he said. ‘Look at the Obama campaign: his funders were small earners, but had enough conviction in the cause to part with their little earnings to see him through.’

Asked what he thought of the party funding proposal, Erias Lukwago, the Democratic Party’s legal chief and MP for Kampala Central, said he would welcome the idea if the government improved on the formula. ‘I am glad that the government of Uganda has finally realised that it has to fund its parties’¦ This is what happens in the rest of the democratic world. However, I am uncomfortable with the formula they intend to use.’ Lukwago argues that the parties that fielded presidential candidates in the last elections should split half of the funding pot equally between themselves, and that the remaining half be given out on the numerical strength formula, on the grounds that ‘quack’ parties should not receive any state funding.

Yet asked how his own party was mobilising funds for the 2011 elections, Lukwago admitted that his party had other fish to fry. ‘Let me be honest. We seem to be engaged in internal squabbles at the moment, battling some mafias who want to hijack the party. There is no fundraising money for the next presidential and parliamentary elections.’ Lukwago told The Independent that the little given to the party by western donors tends to go to its youth wing, the Uganda Youth Democrats. He also admitted that the DP did not fund any candidates in the previous elections, and that its leadership problems mean it is likely to struggle to do so in 2011.

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