The rise in political competition coupled with the absence of tight restrictions on how much political parties or individuals can spend on soliciting votes are set to make the ongoing campaigns the most expensive yet in Uganda’s history.
This is the verdict of a coalition of civil society groups that monitors the financing of political and electoral processes and its influences on campaign outcomes in the country.
To mitigate the distortions that especially unrestricted funding causes to the progress of democracy in Uganda, such as aiding outright purchase of influence if not victory itself by people who would otherwise not be elected, the government must, as a matter of necessity, extensively review existing laws or enact new ones, says the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM).
The resulting work should reflect best standards that are widely practised regarding campaign financing legislation such as setting caps on how much can be spent on any given campaign. It should require individual politicians to declare their sources of funding and to show in detail how they spend the money.
It should also be clear on reporting timelines, and set punitive measures against non-compliance.
Most critically, perhaps, it must assign a clear agency responsible for enforcing these regulations and fully equip it to implement them, the coalition adds.
“Uganda’s electoral laws on party financing do not have direct provisions that require especially individual candidates to disclose their campaign income when we know that in Uganda nearly every person funds their own campaigns; some through selling their property. The provisions on income disclosure are only binding on political parties, and organisations not individuals,” noted Henry Muguzi, who co-ordinates ACFIM.
“The laws also focus more on routine financing of political parties, not how these organisations or even the individuals, fund their campaigns. Yet elections campaigns are one off events that are subject to different financial pressures from the day-to-day operations of the party or the person seeking a leadership position.
“So it is critical to have specific provisions in the laws that address all aspects of election campaign financing. It is an international best practice that campaign financing legislation is developed distinct from other electoral laws. Kenya and Tanzania have done so that and we find no reason why Uganda cannot emulate them,” added Mr Muguzi.
NO TIGHT RESTRICTIONS
While Tanzania enacted the Election Expenses Act (EAA) in 2010 and Kenya the Election Campaign Finance Act three years later, the two countries are not quite as exemplary as ACFIM presents them, according to analysis of their legislations.
Tanzania, whose recent elections were deemed by some observers as the most expensive yet in that country’s history, some analysts have noted challenges similar to those that undercut Uganda’s current electoral laws.
According to Helen Kiunsi, a law don at the Open University of Tanzania, the EEA’s restrictions are not comprehensive, its penalties not prohibitive enough, it does not define key terms, it is contradictory insofar as it makes the disclosure of elections funds confidential, and, perhaps more importantly, weakened by the inability, let alone the will, of those charged with its implementation to enforce it.
Calls by ACFIM for a robust campaign financing legislation, and the matching will to enforce it, come against the backdrop of two studies the Alliance has done in 74 constituencies.
“In the majority of the constituencies (70 out of 74) candidates that transcended their competitors in spending polled the highest number of voters,” said the September-October report on party internal elections where each candidate, particularly those in the ruling NRM party, spent an average of Ush200 million ($61,422) in the quest to become the flag bearer.
This money is four times what current MPs estimate they spent to compete for the same flag in the 2011 electoral cycle, according to a joint survey involving 146 legislators that ACFIM conducted with the US based National Democratic Institute in January 2015.
Although the same legislators reported spending about the same amount (that is, Ush50 million or $15,356) on the actual contest, in the ongoing contest they expect to spend at least three times more than they did in the last election.
An overwhelming majority agreed the cost of political competition was rising rapidly, almost 10 times since 2001. This, they felt, did not portend well for effective governance because, if sustained, it would restrict participation to the “super rich.” As such, 62 per cent agree there should be caps to how much money can be spent on a political contest.
As the last polls demonstrated, unrestricted campaign financing is not only bad for politics but also for business. Seventy per cent of the legislators said the amount of money spent on the elections was so high that it contributed to the high level of inflation that affected the country afterwards.