KAYUMBA: Presidential candidates don’t say how they’ll pay for their promises

Tuesday July 25 2017

From left, Rwandan presidential aspirants

From left, Rwandan presidential aspirants Philippe Mpayimana, Paul Kagame (centre) and Frank Habineza. PHOTOS | FILE | NMG 

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By the time you read this, it will be nearly two weeks since presidential candidates officially launched their campaigns on July 14. From what I have seen and heard from candidates as well as read in their manifestos, there are four issues I find uniquely interesting.

First, the media has been able to cover all the three presidential candidates without discernible bias. This is particularly commendable for the national broadcaster, which has provided live coverage of all the candidates, with commentary from experts with knowledge on the manifestos of all the candidates.

In view of the fact that the national broadcaster used to be the mouthpiece of the incumbent, this is a positive development that deserve mention.

And, indeed, this is how the media can help the citizenry to learn about the candidates and their programmes, so that they can make an informed decision on August 4.

Secondly, with the exception of Candidate Paul Kagame saying at one of his rallies in the southern Province that his party is “greener” than the Green Party and his competitors occasionally pointing out some of the things the ruling party failed to do, there haven’t been any personal attacks from any of the candidates.
While this is partly due to the fact that it’s illegal for candidates to engage in personal attacks, this is how civility in elections can be nurtured.

Thirdly, as expected, the incumbent’s campaigns are marked by huge crowds and star-studded fanfare while his opponents’ are unmistakably sparsely attended.
Watching Kagame speak amid a sea of supporters and reveling in big-name pomp reminds us the effect of success and why it’s easy to associate with it; while, watching independent Candidate Philippe Mpayimana addressing a tiny crowd mostly composed of puzzled school children and the Green Party’s Frank Habineza dancing amid a dozen or so fans points to the pain of being in opposition while reminding us that success is earned.

Finally, while no candidate has told us how they will pay for their programmes or succinctly defined the main challenges our nation faces today, all three have rolled out manifestos that touch on all issues from security to the economy to justice and foreign relations.

In particular, while the incumbent promises to build on the achievements made thus far to strengthen the economy, his opponents talk of reducing taxes or scraping this or that tax, increasing salaries or constructing hospitals and roads.

However, none of the candidates tells us where the country gets its revenue from nor how they will fund their projects!

The Green Party’s Habineza talks of reducing VAT from 18 per cent to 15 per cent; increasing salaries of teachers, soldiers, and promising, together with independent candidate Mpayimana of scraping land tax, etc.

Yet, to move a nation forward doesn’t only require outlining what needs to be done but also articulating where the revenue to fund these projects will be generated.

So why don’t candidates especially opponents of the incumbent who still need to prove themselves since they have never held state power tell us how they will fund the projects they promise?

This question is especially pertinent considering that Rwanda still faces a huge debt burden; a low tax base; is still aid dependent and has an unhealthy balance of trade.

While the incumbent could rely on the voters referring to what he has already done and therefore don’t doubt he can meet his promises, his opponents cannot bank on the same. So why don’t they prove themselves?

It could be that it’s easy to make promises and pinpoint what can be done but difficult to know the cost.

Of course, there are some who could say that some candidates are merely politicking and haven’t seriously thought through their promises or how to achieve them.

Other might say that, as is often the case with some politicians, articulating economic and development paths is difficult and should be left to technokrats.

Whatever the case, for opposition candidates, merely outlining what they will do doesn’t instill any confidence among voters.

To attract voters’ imagination, opponents of the incumbent need to show not only the nation’s current revenue and expenditure, but how this revenue base will be improved if they are trusted with power.

Otherwise, as things stand today, there is no opposition candidate that has demonstrated that he understands the country’s development challenges or solutions and why the incumbent should be replaced.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com