Despite clocking 28 years in power, the National Resistance Movement still has a lot of unfinished party business.
It has no permanent home, no income-generating project and can’t pay salaries for its party officials in districts.
A blunt-talking President Museveni, the party chairman, warned on March 4 during an NRM MPs caucus meeting at State House Entebbe that the party was sliding into bankruptcy.
Museveni said the party could fund some of its planned activities. The meeting was convened mainly to discuss party Secretary General and Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and close family members.
Museveni’s intelligence accused Mbabazi; his wife Jacqueline, who is also the national chairperson of the NRM Women’s League; and sister in-law Hope Mwesigye of mobilizing politically against Museveni. But it also discussed the party’s finances.
The MPs singled out the failure to fully constitute the party’s secretariat at its headquarters and the stalled construction of the NRM House. Construction of the 27-storey NRM House estimated to cost $12.5 million (Shs 30bn) had been planned to begin early last year. But with two years left to its planned completion date, work is yet to start.
Without any donations to the party, Museveni told the MPs that the party was dependent mainly on monthly contributions from its 264 MPs. Some of the MPs, he said, had refused to remit their contributions.
The MPs’ contributions total at least Shs 41m monthly, a figure Museveni said was insufficient to run party activities.
“I was wondering how the ANC [African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party] has managed to generate income for its activities but we must not forget that theirs is a bigger economy compared to ours,” Museveni reportedly told the caucus.
“We have some little money, I think construction of the NRM house should now start,” he said.
Museveni’s blunt talk followed concerns by MPs who said it was a shame for a party that had been in power for 28 years not to have a project which brings in income. Among the registered political parties in the country, it is only UPC, FDC and Jeema that have permanent homes.
Given the cash constraints, the party has failed to pay salaries for its district employees. In each of the 112 districts, the party recruited an administrative secretary who is a full-time employee with a monthly salary of Shs 500,000.
Until last December when Secretary General Mbabazi paid each of them Shs 2m, they had gone for about 15 months without pay, while some of the party officials had been evicted from district offices over accumulated rent arrears. Museveni told the caucus that the party had spent at least Shs 110m to clear the rent arrears up to December 2013.
On March 8, Mbabazi told Capital gang, a political talk-show on Capital FM, that a funding gap had made it impossible for the party to set up structures that would enable it to operate as an independent organisation.
“We are supposed to have nine directors in the secretariat and many other staff members, and each directorate is supposed to have its own people. They have one out of nine …,” Mbabazi said.
Despite being broke, the party runs a big budget which some political pundits say is financed by the taxpayers. The party spent at least Shs 264m on MPs’ allowances during last month’s caucus MPs 10–day retreat at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi.
The budget grows bigger with feeding costs, allowances for facilitators and support staff. Last week, DP Secretary General and Bukoto South MP Mathias Nsubuga Birekeraawo petitioned court against what he called continued abuse of state resources by the ruling NRM to run its party activities.
This came on the coat tails of the party’s caucus meetings, one after another, at State House Entebbe as President Museveni sought to kill Mbabazi’s perceived quest for the party leadership going into the 2016 elections.
“There is a difference between NRM and government but these people are running the party as if it is an organ of the state,” Nsubuga told The Observer on Friday. “In other countries, political party activities are separate from state functions.”
In his petition, Nsubuga queries the NRM’s enjoyment of government facilities such State House and the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi for partisan activities. The minister Without Portfolio in charge of Political Mobilization, Richard Todwong told The Observer earlier that the facilities were open for use to even opposition parties so long as they could pay.
“Our State House meetings are not funded by the state, they are funded by the NRM caucus account because we also contribute to the caucus,” he said.