To get rid of the large pool of unserious political candidates that come up every election cycle, Mustapha Ssebagala Kigozi, a national electoral commissioner, has suggested nomination fees should be increased tenfold.
Ssebaggala Kigozi, used Tuesday’s launch of the Electoral Commission Gender Strategy spearheaded by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women) at Imperial Royale hotel, to tell women who want nomination fees lowered that if the current fees were increased, that would wipe out the “junk we currently have as leaders” in the different positions of authority.
By law, a presidential candidate pays Shs 20m in nomination fees and an aspiring member of parliament Shs 3m. Ssebaggala Kigozi wants presidential candidates to pay Shs 100m in nomination fees and MPs Shs 10m. At the launch, women mainly from the civil society said the current nomination fees were too high and lock many able women from the electoral
Women activists including former East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) legislator Sheila Kawamara and Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)’s head of communication and advocacy Charity Kalebbo Ahimbisibwe argued that many women continue to be locked out of decision-making positions due to their inability to raise nomination fees, intimidation and commercialization of politics.
In response, Commissioner Ssebaggala Kigozi said the current nomination fees are too low and have opened up the political space to speculators who borrow cash to join politics and later spend much of their time looking to recoup the money they used or borrowed.
“You know because nomination is now getting more or less free of charge, everybody is coming. The fees should be increased so that we get credible people in parliament and other positions. The lower the figure, the more junk you get in these elective posts,” Ssebaggala Kigozi said.
He said there is no need to debate the current Shs 3m paid by parliamentary candidates, much as many people think it’s prohibitive. According to the commissioner, if the candidates’ nomination fees were increased, it would help get rid of ‘money makers’ in parliament who contest for positions just to earn a living and the title of honourable.
“That is why you hear the same debaters [in parliament over and over. These ones [current MPs] could afford the entry requirements but the quality of debate is another issue for another time,” Ssebaggala Kigozi said.
“Have you ever sat down to do an analysis and ask why it is the same MPs debating over and over? Haven’t you heard constituents complaining that we sent so and so to parliament but he or she has never spoken?” he told The Observer when asked to clarify more on his stance on the fees.
Ssebaggala argued that Ugandans ought to ask themselves what kind of leaders they will have if the nomination fees were maintained at Shs 20m and Shs3m or lowered for presidential and parliamentary candidates respectively.
“If you want a president to be nominated at Shs 5m, really! What kind of president are we going to get? I think we should raise it from Shs 20m to Shs 100m for president and MPs to Shs 10m.”
“You are going to be honourable, to represent people you should be in a position to prove you are worth the position in the first place. You invest in a contest for positions just to earn a living and the title of honourable. You invest in yourself first before you look at others,” he added.
Electoral Commission boss Simon Byabakama said the electoral body abides by the nomination fees set by parliament and if parliament said it were increasing, the commission would implement that.
“For us what we are doing is to put in place a strategy that encourages and promotes women participation. The prohibitive fees are part of the discussion. The people who pass these laws are representatives of the people in parliament,” Byabakama said.
“The people should be telling their representatives. The debate should start from there. These women should tell their representatives that the fees are high, we cannot afford. It’s a debate which should begin at the grassroots, to the sub-county level up to the top because women are represented at all those levels,” he added.
He said for the successful implementation of the strategy launched, all stakeholders should come on board by joining forces and going to the women wherever they are in the rural areas and engage with them to get involved in the elective positions. Commissioner Justine Mugabi, however, encouraged women intending to vie for decision-making positions not to relent but be focused.
“Politics requires someone with a strong heart and who is brave. It is walking through rough water, it’s competition and he or she who competes best wins.”
“Although there is affirmative action still like in education, you must achieve a certain percentage of excellence. Similarly, the political arena is rough. There will be attacks. Sometimes it is difficult for the Electoral Commission to stop whoever is in the field there misusing their freedom to make life difficult for female participants,” Mugabi said.