Election handouts: The scourge eating the economy

Tuesday November 10 2015

President Museveni (L) hands over Shs250

President Museveni (L) hands over Shs250 million to Busoga youth chairperson Sanon Bwire recently. The gesture attracted criticism, most of it, in social media. FILE PHOTO  

By Ismail Musa Ladu

The earnest obligation to vote seems to have lost meaning with many turning the civic duty into a season of cash bonanzas.
Last week, the Electoral Commission completed nomination for the 2016 presidential candidates but the scenes in some camps at party rallies tells of a deeper rot that has dug deep into society.
The election period, according to a Democracy Monitoring Group (DEM Group) report, is usually heavy on cash handouts with reports of wide spread bribery patronising the season.
The report, on Money in Politics, shows pervasive vote buying but warns of skewed outcomes that do not reflect the will of society.

DEM Group, whose objective is to help create a free and fair election, stresses that the use of money has “become a culture with voters becoming accustomed to receiving bribes in exchange for votes”.
But all this, analysts say, could be the work of a rotten society that has willing vote sellers and buyers as both seek to gain from each other.
However, the report also cites the failure to deliver service and the stinging poverty that continues to squeeze voters with no end in sight.

This is particularly not surprising since a large percentage of the electorate is extremely poor and vulnerable to monetary handouts.
But besides cash handouts voters have also been compromised with petty handouts that are largely consumptive and have no long term impact on their lives.
All this is conduct that is contrary to the electoral law but seems to have grown unabated.

Interviewed for this article, Venansius Baryamureeba, an Independent presidential candidate for the 2016 elections, said politics has been highly monetanised and candidates need to spend heavily in order to win an election.
He says, Shs15m a day in the life of a presidential candidate, for instance, is just but a drop in the ocean.
Therefore, it could be for this reason that winning a political office has become a do-or-die affair where people are willing to do anything to gain an edge.
But such deluded activities, Gerald Karuhanga says lack logic and blinds voters into making inept and unwise decisions that cannot impact their future.

Karuhanga, who is a Youth Member of Parliament for western region, believes that for any elective office such MP, people should only spend the bare minimum and not the huge sums of money that have become to characterise elections.
Baryamureeba just like Karuhanga believes the huge sums of money spent during election are not only despondent but have created voter apathy and are a danger to the economy.
The money, which in most cases is unaccounted for, has spill over economic effects, which according to Fred Muhumuza, creates problems for the economy because it is “consumptive rather productive”.

“During elections inflation tends to skyrocket, which creates problems for the economy”, Muhumuza, an economic analyst with KPMG, says.
The inflation, he says, has a far reaching impact that not only slows down economic growth but has the potential to wipe out gains.
But the irony, according to Muhumuza, is the source of huge sums of money, which he says could be diversions from productive projects to aid short term political gains.
The impact is usually immense and to Yona Kanyomozi, a veteran politician, the repeat of the 2011 mess could come back to haunt the country.
After the 2011 electoral period, inflation rose to more than 30 per cent with allegations that Bank of Uganda had issued promissory notes to fund election activities of the ruling NRM party.

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“For sure we should brace for the worst after the election. And just like how it has always been, everybody will feel the impact,” Kanyomozi says, highlighting an already fluid economy that is chocking on rising inflation, high interest rates and the relatively weak Shilling.
But for Julius Mukunda, the Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group coordinator, economic challenges are usually anticipated but sometimes, “It could be too late do anything”.

However, the Central Bank has been fighting a growth in inflation which last month grew to 8.8 per cent.
The 8.8 per cent is above the Central Bank target of 5 per cent.
The election, Mukunda says, is likely to condemn many, especially those who will use large sums with a view of appealing to voters.
But beyond inflation, is the fear of depleting the national treasury, which Julius Kapwepwe, the Uganda Debt Network director of programmes believes could be orchestrated by people in government.

Kapwepwe says it will be dangerous for government to “borrow to take care of political promises made during these campaigns”.
However, the claims that the Central Bank prints money to fund the NRM, according to Louis Kasekende, the Bank of Uganda deputy governor are merely but allegations because “I also ask myself where they get the money from”, warning that those speculating must “be careful”.
“As far as we are concerned enforcement of rules is a must. And the Central Bank does not finance any election,” he said at a recent function in Kampala.

What is recommended
According to the DEM Group report and expert analysis, there is need for transparent in the manner of election financing.
This should be done in the manner that campaign contributions are disclosed and accounted for every after election period. This will encourage accountability, which unlike today closes out the need for transparent practices that encourage free and fair elections.
But beyond accountability and transparency, voters should be taken through civic education to strengthen their civic knowledge as a long term strategy that could protect the public from manipulation. Leaders should also be held accountable to fulfil election pledges and this should be used as a benchmark for their return to office.

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