KAMPALA. Ugandans will have to wait a little longer before they can have elections for Local Council (LC) I and II leaders.
Although the country was expecting the polls this year, Cabinet has resolved that the long-awaited LC1 and LC2 elections under a multiparty political dispensation be deferred until further notice, citing financial constraints.
Cabinet sources told Daily Monitor that Cabinet last week considered the matter and tasked Finance minister Matia Kasaija to inform the Electoral Commission (EC) that the government was unable to hold the polls this financial year. It was also agreed that if money is found in the 2017/18 Budget, the elections would then take place as planned.
Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, confirmed the news last evening and explained that the planned LC elections were not “suspended” but were “deferred” to allow the government respond to the hunger crisis in several parts of the country.
“It’s true the LC1 and LC2 elections were deferred mainly because of budget issues,” Mr Opondo said. “Because of famine in the country, government sat and decided to urgently address the hunger crisis in the country. The elections will take place when we get the money. We needed to provide relief to the starving Ugandans and a decision was taken to defer the elections.”
Opposition leaders, however, dismissed the excuse of famine as “a hoax” and instead tagged the suspension of the LC polls in more than 800 villages across the country to what the Forum for Democratic Change’s Secretary General, Nathan Nandala Mafabi called, “political reasons based on [President] Museveni’s fear of the unknown.”
“The LC elections were forced on NRM government by FDC leaders and it’s not surprising that they are playing hide and seek on a matter of national significance,” Mr Mafabi said. “President Museveni does not want to hold LC elections because he is concerned that change is going to sweep his sycophants in the villages. The government fear is that we [Opposition] have penetrated the villages and exposed the NRM lies.”
EC not in the know
The Electoral Commission Spokesperson, Mr Jotham Taremwa, said he had not seen the letter communicating the Cabinet decision on the suspension of LC elections to next year.
He, however, maintained that after a series of meetings with the Finance ministry, Parliament, the Local Government ministry, and the Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Gender, they wrote to the Finance minister requesting for Shs16 billion for the polls.
“There was no need of following up on our request for the money because the decision was taken in the presence of Ministry of Finance officials,” Mr Taremwa said. “For us we have not seen the communication but we wrote to the Ministry of Finance requesting for the funds and we are waiting for a response.”
Asked why they assured Parliament and the country that money for local council elections will be available yet they had financial constraints, Ministry of Finance Spokesman, Mr Jim Mugunga, confirmed the suspension of the elections and referred Daily Monitor to other relevant government authorities to explain what happened.
“I don’t know who gave you that information but as far as Ministry of Finance is concerned, we have no provision for the elections. The elections were deferred to an unknown date due to unavoidable circumstances… the relevant government authorities can give you further information,” Mr Mugunga told Daily Monitor last evening.
Public Service and Local Government Committee chairperson Raphael Magyezi (Igara West, NRM) yesterday reacted with alarm and vowed to petition Parliament on the matter. “It’s not money, it’s about something else. They are hiding something. I think money is a cover-up. Parliament has done its work, they wanted the law we gave them, they wanted money we approved Shs16b, now what games are they playing?” he asked.
Uganda has not conducted elections for LC1 (village) and LC2 (parish) for the last 15 years, the last one having been held in 2001 before the country shifted from the one-party Movement system to the multiparty system of governance.
Attempts to hold the elections in 2006 were thwarted following the Constitutional Court ruling on the petition by then opposition member of FDC Maj Rubaramira Ruranga (retired) who successfully challenged the legality of the incumbent local councils following the country’s return to the multiparty political system.
Maj Ruranga argued that the Local Councils which were elected under the discarded Movement governance became unconstitutional upon the country’s reversion to the multiparty system. The court upheld his petition and nullified the Local Councils and ordered fresh elections under the multiparty system.
But due to financial constraints, the government has never held the elections although the Local Councils continued operating illegally to-date. Uganda has 7,431 parishes and 57,842 villages in 1403 sub-counties.
To reduce the costs from about Shs500b to now Shs16b, the government in 2014 convinced the 9th Parliament that it would be too expensive to hold the polls using secret ballot voting and proposed voting by lining up behind the candidates for LC1 and LC2 polls. More amendments were made in January to quicken the process during the debating and passing of the Local Government Amendment Bill.
The President has since assented to the law. Although Mr Museveni had directed that the LC1 and LC2 elections be conducted in January this year, this was not done due to resource constraints. State Minister for Local Government, Ms Jenifer Namuyangu later told Parliament that the elections would take place on March 15.
This date passed without elections even as the Opposition Attorney General, Mr Wilfred Niwagaba, and other political commentators accused the NRM leader of benefitting from the status quo.
“NRM and President Museveni in particular uses local council leaders for his mobilisation and any attempts to dismantle the current leadership will always face resistance from him,” Mr Niwagaba said. “The fact is that this government has never taken democracy seriously….the claim that there is no money is a prank to hoodwink Ugandans. How come they found money for the so-called presidential handshake?”
But Mr Opondo and other NRM leaders derided the Opposition claims that NRM benefits from the illegal LC1 and LC2 leadership and reminded Mr Mafabi and others that in the run up to the 2016 polls, they failed to field candidates in all elective positions.
Prof Sabiti Makara, a senior lecturer at Makerere University’s department of political science, however, said the vacuum has created confusion and ambiguity in regards to the current LC courts. He reminded the government that many land transactions are concluded on documents presided over and signed by the illegitimate Local Council officials. He insists that the inability to hold the elections is about money and that that “it’s a problem of priorities.”