NUP summons councillors as bribery allegations hit party

Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago with the newly elected speaker Zahrah Luyirika Maala and deputy speaker Masaba Nasuru. NUP counsellors have been accused of taking bribes during the election process

Kampala Mayor Erias Lukwago with the newly elected speaker Zahrah Luyirika Maala and deputy speaker Masaba Nasuru. NUP counsellors have been accused of taking bribes during the election process

The National Unity Platform (NUP) has summoned its councillors who have been accused of stocking up bribes to vote against the party candidates in this week's local government elections. 

Despite having super-majorities, NUP lost a couple of speakership and deputy speaker seats to independent candidates or those of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) in polls held this week.

In Lubaga Division,  the NUP candidate Rehema Fugge was defeated by the NRM candidate Musah Mbaziira in a council where NUP has 64 councillors elected on its ticket against the 11 members of the NRM. The story was the same in other areas like Makindye and Kampala Central, forcing enraged NUP supporters to take to social media to show their displeasure, accusing their leaders of "betraying the struggle."

But this outcome was not surprising. While the party carried out primaries to get local government speakers last week, chaos broke out at the party headquarters after the results of the vote were declared. Supporters accused councillors of accepting bribes to influence their voting decisions.

Led by renowned NUP activist Sauda Madada, supporters said it was unacceptable to elect leaders who are NUP in name only. They said such positions should be taken over by party zealots who have been in the trenches with their party president, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine as he crisscrossed the country looking for votes and in the process braving the brunt of state brutality.

"How can you give the card to known NRM supporters and leave the foot soldiers. These are the people we have been with, in the struggle and it should be them to be given leadership positions," a teary Madada shouted to the election management committee led by the former Bugweri Woman MP contestant, Mercy Walukamba.

The issue of bribery was also hinted at by Kyagulanyi during his unscheduled address to the councillors before they cast their vote. One of his handlers said Kyagulanyi thought his address would change the councillors' minds.

‘He wasn’t supposed to speak but he thought if the councillors heard from him, they would do the right thing. But he was disappointed that they elected people because they had paid them,’ the handler said.

But away from the internal squabbles, money was also cited in the final elections that took place this week. Two councillors who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity confirmed that indeed they had been influenced to vote the way they did.

"It’s very hard to win an electoral college vote if you don’t have money. You really should forgive councillors because there are a few people who can turn down money when it's offered," one councillor from Kawempe said.

Another councillor from Makindye added that even the lack of transparency during the identification of candidates for the party in the general election also has an influence on how people behave now.

"Many of those people blaming us have nothing to tell us because they are part of the problem. They extorted money from people before they gave them cards. If they are turning out to be corrupt, they shouldn’t blame them," the councillor who asked not to be named said.

But Walukamba challenged anyone who gave her money to come out publicly and say it. She however said it’s hard to vouch for other members of her commission if they too are as clean as herself. On why they lost seats yet they have commanding majorities is councils, Walukamba attributed it to infighting within the party. She added that they have also heard of allegations of money exchanging hands.

"What I think is, maybe they were bought or some people were biased, I can't know. You can really never know what happened in Lubaga. Some people got annoyed because they didn't get the cut that is why they wanted to support the other guy of NRM. In politics, you can't know what is in someone's heart. We came up with the party in one month and gave out cards so it was to say that we studied people for some good time. No. All people were new. We didn't know about those people or even their background. But we tried maybe next time we shall be careful," Walukamba said. 

Davis Lewis Rubongoya, the secretary general of NUP said it wouldn’t be surprising if money played a big role in their defeat. Rubongoya said that although their party aims at having a cleanup of the corruption mess that they say has characterized the NRM government, they can’t do so overnight.

"We cannot detach ourselves from the Ugandan society, this society has been raped and corrupted for the past 35 years. It is not very easy to just stamp out that corruption in one day. These councillors that we're talking about are part and parcel of the Ugandan society of the monetised politics and all that. We do have a duty as a party to tell them about the values, we caution them on things like corruption and all that and we're going to take very serious action if we find that anyone has indeed taken a bribe. But this is not the position of the party and as you know we condemn corruption in all its forms," Rubongoya said. 

He however said they have started carrying out investigations to establish the facts and if anybody is caught on the wrong side, severe disciplinary actions are going to be taken against them.

"First of all these are isolated incidences, we won in most of the areas where we have a majority. I think they were two places where we did not and we're finding the reasons why. Many people are pointing to corruption that these people were bought off and we're trying to investigate and interrogate that and in fact in some cases we have already invited the councillors in those particular areas," said Rubongoya. 

This is not the first time that NUP leaders are accused of taking money to vote in a certain direction. During the election of the speaker and deputy speaker of parliament, it was said that some MPs belonging to the nascent party were given between Shs 1 million and Shs 3 million to vote for particular candidates. But notwithstanding all this, Rubongoya says their party remains the most viable option to replace NRM.

"Certainly the National Unity Platform does not condone corruption and you know when councillors in a particular place can do something that can't be imputed on the party. You know we have millions and millions of supporters across the country. So if a member of NUP in a certain village decides to take a bribe you do not impute that on the leadership of the party. But like I said we take this seriously, these are leaders at the level of councillors and we're going to investigate and take serious action," added Rubongoya.  

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd