Sunday June 1 2014

The price taxpayers pay for the by-elections

Kizza Besigye and Winnie Kiiza campaign

Kizza Besigye and Winnie Kiiza campaign for the Kasese Woman MP by-election in 2012. File photo 

By PAUL TAJUBA

KAMPALA- Members of the Opposition and civil society activists have called for electoral reforms, saying the current election system breeds and promotes electoral fraud.

They indict the current Electoral Commission of being incapable of conducting free and fair elections. The EC refutes both claims. But on Tuesday, President Museveni rubbed more salt in the wound when he said Electoral Commission officials collude with some people to slot pre-ticked ballots into the ballot box.
The President’s fury was triggered by the May 22 by-election for the Luweero District Woman MP where his ruling NRM party candidate lost to the Democratic Party flag bearer by more than 16,000 votes.

The claims of election fraud are not new nor are they far-fetched.
Background
Since 2011, court has annulled 11 parliamentary and local government seats and ordered fresh elections because of the electoral fraud by the candidates or failure by the Electoral Commission to conduct the election in accordance with the law.

Besides helping political fraudsters to get elected to undeserved positions, the election theft has imposed a staggering financial burden on the taxpayer.

The 11 by-elections brought about by electoral fraud since 2011 have cost the taxpayer at least Shs4 billion, according to official figures of the Electoral Commission.

Of the 16 by-elections held since 2011, only five were caused by death of the incumbent or the incumbent absconding from duty and they cost Shs2 billion.
These by-election costs are besides the hundreds of millions of shillings the EC has to pay to the petitioners, as awarded by the courts, in costs and general damages. The petitioners refused to reveal the amount of money court ordered EC to pay them in costs.

In most of the 11 nullified elections, court blamed the EC for not playing its role to stop electoral malpractices. Thus President Museveni’s Tuesday indictment on the EC for election fraud is corroborated by the court findings.
For example, in a petition where former Luweero District Woman MP Rebecca Nalwanga sued the EC and her rival Ms Brenda Nabukenya of the Democratic Party when she lost a by-election in 2012 by about 30 votes, court faulted the EC for not conducting a mandatory vote recount as requested by the petitioner. Court also indicted the EC for not employing competent people to fix the ballot box seals.

However, what is interesting is that the bulk of the election fraud, which brought about all these by-elections, was committed by the President’s ruling NRM party.
Commenting on the financial impact of the by-elections on the EC’s budget and operations, the spokesperson, Mr Jotham Taremwa, said: “It is the constitutional mandate that we have to fulfill and if we have a shortfall, we go back to the government. We develop an internal budget estimate and the likely costs.”

The Constitution provides that upon an elective position falling vacant, an election shall be held within 60 days.

“Whenever a vacancy exists in Parliament, the Clerk to Parliament shall notify the Electoral Commission in writing within 10 days after the vacancy has occurred; and a by-election shall be held within 60 days after the vacancy has occurred,” reads the Parliamentary Elections Act.

Blame
Mr Steven Tashobya, the chairperson Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, blamed all political actors for the avoidable expenses on by-elections caused by electoral fraud.

“That is a lot of money but it goes to parties’ responsibilities in an election. The biggest culprits have been those due to lack of qualifications and bribery. On two or three occasions, it has been the EC. In order to avoid that, political parties should have time during their primaries to scrutinise their candidates,” he said.

Mr Tashobya said all political parties should vet their candidates, sensitise them about electoral laws and engage voters to reject bribes from the contestants during campaigns.

Mr Tashobya said the government is considering introducing a law to bar candidates convicted of electoral fraud and malpractices from contesting in any subsequent election.

“We may consider in future that candidates who are disqualified on account of voter bribery should not participate again in elections. Some candidates are disqualified and again go back [for re-election]. But if they knew that bribing voters would disqualify them, they would not involve themselves in it,” Mr Tashobya said.

The Forum for Democratic Change President, Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, blamed President Museveni for the problems and challenges disabling the Electoral Commission, which the courts have held culpable in most of the elections nullified, on the account of election rigging.
Role of government leaders
He said in some cases, the EC mistakes in elections are imposed on them by top government leaders who manipulate the electoral process.

“If he (President Museveni) listened to us, we would have solved the political composition of EC and work would be done on the technical process,” said Maj Gen Muntu Muntu in a telephone interview.

Shortly after the 2011 general elections, the European Union electoral watchdog noted that there had been some improvements in the elections but the exercise still fell short of a free and fair election.

“The 2011 Ugandan general elections showed some improvements over the previous elections held in 2006. However, the electoral process was marred by avoidable administrative and logistical failures which led to an unacceptable number of Ugandan citizens being disenfranchised,” the EU election observation report reads.

THE NUMBERS

Shs4 billion: The 11 by-elections brought about by electoral fraud since 2011 have cost the taxpayer at least Shs4 billion.

Shs2 billion: Of the 16 by-elections held since 2011, only five were caused by death of the incumbent or the incumbent absconding from duty and they cost Shs2 billion.

60: Whenever a vacancy exists in Parliament, a by-election shall be held within 60 days after the vacancy has occurred.

11: Since 2011, court has annulled 11 parliamentary and local government seats and ordered fresh elections because of the electoral fraud by the candidates or failure by the Electoral Commission to conduct the election in accordance with the law.
10:Whenever a vacancy exists in Parliament, the Clerk to Parliament shall notify the Electoral Commission in writing within 10 days after the vacancy has occurred.

ELECTORAL COMMISSION EXPENDITURE ON POST 2011 BY-ELECTIONS

Area Position Reason for by election Money(Shs)
Entebbe municipality MP Election rigging 183.9 million
Luweero Woman MP Election rigging 535.9m
Busiro County, North MP Election rigging 251m
Jinja Municipality, East MP Election rigging 161.5m
Bushenyi/Ishaka Municipality MP Election rigging 171m
Bukoto Country, South MP Election rigging 170.5m
Kasese Woman MP Election rigging 574m
Butambala County MP Election rigging 293m
Usuk County MP Death 281m
Kamuli district Chairperson lack of papers 590.5m
Kween district Chairperson lack of papers 434m
Butaleja District Woman MP Death 561.4m
Butembo County MP Death 469.8m
Buhweju district MP Death 396.9m
Buwanga County MP Death 381.8m
Bubule County, West MP Absconding 415.2m
Luweero district Woman MP Unlawful poll 450.5m

ptajuba@ug.nationmedia.com

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