Private member’s bill to limit election spending

Arua Woman MP Mourine Osoru campaigned alongside Museveni in Arua

At least one MP spent a mindboggling Shs 1bn to win his seat, according to a new report on the last election

A new survey has found that close to Shs 25 billion was spent by just 113 members of parliament during the February parliamentary elections. The report released in Kampala yesterday by the Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM), a non- governmental election watch organisation, found that 113 MPs out of 185 MPs surveyed spent Shs 24.7 billion.

There are about 432 MPs in the 10th parliament. Henry Muguzi, the ACFIM national coordinator, presented the findings conducted between September 16 and October 7, 2016.

On average, NRM MPs interviewed spent Shs 233 million, Shs 187 million for opposition MPs and Shs 189 million for independent MPs, according to the report.

Muguzi said the highest declared spending by a single candidate was Shs 1billion while the lowest was Shs 10 million. The report does not, however, name the MP who spent Shs 1billion.

The report has galvanized critics of commercialized politics and prompted a group of MPs headed by Fort Portal municipality MP Alex Ruhunda to come up with a private member’s bill that will seek to limit the amount of money a presidential and parliamentary candidate can spend in an election.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Ruhunda said cash politics has hindered progressive and credible leaders from joining politics and ‘crooks’ with money are having a field day.

“We are losing so many good people who cannot afford the commercialized politics,” Ruhunda said. He added that he and a group of more than 50 MPs have already written to parliament’s director for legal affairs and the legal committee to draft a bill that will put a ceiling on how much a candidate can spend in an election.

He noted that commercialization of politics has also contributed to the formation of propaganda youth organizations with the sole aim of being bought for electioneering purposes hence depriving the country of capable people who can engage in meaningful economic activities.

“We went through nasty experiences during elections because our relationship with the voters is about money. If this trend continues, we are doomed,” Ruhunda said. “It is total madness and for one to spend one billion shillings. Such people must be investigated to know the source of these funds.”

Muguzi said parliament is now dominated by opportunists, businessmen and brokers because they can afford to finance the election.

“Countries are governed on laws and policies; therefore, we need these laws that will level the playing field so that we get leaders who have the country’s interests at heart,” Muguzi added.

Andrew Omalla, the spokesperson for the Jimmy Akena-led UPC faction, put blame on the individual merit system that the NRM propagated before 2005. The system, he said, denied political parties the ability to influence politics. He said that individuals within parties are far stronger than the parties they belong to.

“The report doesn’t capture the real cause of commercialization of politics. Political parties are supposed to look for funds to finance the elections but they are too weak to do that,” he noted. “Individual merit that the country was subjected to for a long time bred greed which created the problems we are still going through up to now.”

Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), criticized voters for freely selling their votes.

“In the recent elections, I was in Rubanda as an election observer and voters there refused to vote because they were waiting for the candidates to pay them. Money in politics has now become an international disaster.” he said.

Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), said such expenditures undermine democracy. She said leaders elected into political office now seek personal interests and work towards recouping what they spent during campaigns.

“Commercialization of politics has deprived Ugandans of capable leaders in Parliament. It results into demand for higher pay by legislators since they want to recover their money spent on campaigns,” she said.

The findings come hot on the heels of an earlier report released by ACFIM on campaign financing. It detailed funds spent by presidential candidates during the 2016 campaigns.

President Museveni reportedly spent Shs 27 billion, Amama Mbabazi spent Shs 1.3 billion and Dr Kizza Besigye spent Shs 976 million. Prof Venansius Baryamureeba spent Shs 95.7 million, Dr Abed Bwanika Shs 34.3 million while Joseph Mabirizi spent Shs 26.4 million.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd