EC decries lack of funds for Local Council polls 

A woman casts her vote at Nabbingo Polling Station in Kyengera Town Council, Wakiso District, during elections for LC3 chairpersons and their councillors on February 3, 2021. Photo/File

What you need to know:

  • The Independent Electoral Commission (EC) had in April submitted a request for Shs60.8 billion to conduct elections for Local Council 1 and 2 officials, whose terms expire on July 10, 2023 and July 27, 2023 respectively.

With just about a months left to the expiry of the tenure of current local councils, the fate of scheduled elections for new office bearers is hanging in the balance on account of no budgetary allocation to run the polls.  
If monies for the elections are not released by the Finance ministry, the country will see a return to the 2001 and 2018 fiasco where village and parish leaders remained in office illegally – leading to litigation challenging the validity of whatever actions they may have taken in the period.  
Lower level councils are a key cog in the wheel of Uganda’s political infrastructure. Importantly, they are the offices of first resort in the handling of issues which directly affect citizens at the grassroots, including mobilisation of the population for government programmes. 

Making a case for timely constitutional, electoral reforms
Their unavailability would, therefore, have far-reaching implications for the successful exercise of local government authority.  
The Independent Electoral Commission (EC) had in April submitted a request for Shs60.8 billion to conduct elections for Local Council 1 and 2 officials, whose terms expire on July 10, 2023 and July 27, 2023 respectively. This request, however, remains unmet by the Finance ministry, commission officials worry. 
“The commission has planned to conduct the elections in the 2023/2024 financial year but no appropriation was made in the budget,” Mr Simon Byabakama, the EC chairperson told the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in April. 
Elections to fill political offices in the country’s local governments are a constitutional matter, but it continues to present a headache for the authorities who have repeatedly pleaded a lack of money to organise and hold these polls.  
Women councils’ elections which should have been held in August 2022 were suspended due to lack of funds, rendering the councils nonexistent.  The cost of running women council elections is estimated at Shs20 billion.

 Now, the body charged with organising elections is again in a race against time to beat the expiry date of the current local councils.  
There are 71,216 villages (LC1) and 10,717(LC2) parishes in Uganda, each with a nine-member committee appointed by their respective chairpersons. Five of those members are elected, which would suggest that at least 400,000 elective positions have to be filled countrywide.
 Expiry of the term of the chair automatically means that a committee’s tenure also lapses.  
The committees are constituted by a vice chair, and secretaries for children welfare, security, education, finance, public health, production and environmental protection. There also are representatives for the youth, older persons and persons living with disabilities. 
Under the LC1 structure, these committees deal with land transactions (by verifying and confirming the buying and selling of real estate); are the first ports of call on local security issues; they gather intelligence information and report to the Gombolola Internal Security Officer, among other duties. 

Mr Paul Bukenya, the spokesperson at the EC, told this publication yesterday that they are ready with a roadmap for the polls. 
“The EC is prepared because we developed a budget for the exercise and a programme. We are waiting for availability of funds to release the programme and implement it. We are engaging the government to avail funds for that purpose,” he said. 
Mr Bukenya said the EC “submitted a budget on time and what is going on is an engagement with the government to ensure we do not have a crisis. As EC we will be able to execute the programme when the funds are released”.  

If the funds are availed, voting will be by lining up behind nominated candidates or their representatives, or their portraits or symbols, as was the case in 2018, in accordance with Section 111(2) of the Local Government Act CAP 243 (as amended).  
The 2018 poll was the first such exercise in 17 years since Uganda last conducted local council elections in 2001. 
Mr Bukenya was optimistic that the government would release the money to avert the looming crisis. 
Ms Robina Rwakoojo, the chair of the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, yesterday said her committee approved the EC budget requirement for the LC polls. 
“We asked for money for the LC1 and LC2 elections because those offices will expire. We also asked for money for the village councils, which have already expired. As a committee, we did this because it is a constitutional provision. We have to wait to see what has been passed,” she said.

 “Once the term expires they are no longer holding those offices. Now, we have no women councils,” she pointed out, while saying the ball now lies in the court of parliament’s budget committee. 
Efforts to reach Mr Isiagi Opolot, the House Budget Committee chair and his deputy, Mr Ignatius Mudimi, to establish whether these polls were provided for in the final budget report due to be tabled before the House next week, were futile. 
However, Shadow Attorney General Wilfred Niwagaba was sceptical about the possibility of fresh elections being organised in the remaining two months.   
He also blamed the government for the looming crisis, noting that it created too many political administrative units which have become a financial burden given the country’s limited resources. 

“The government has created many administrative units but they realise how unviable it is in terms of administrative costs...  I do not see any change from what happened before. The current leaders are likely to remain in office [illegally] until new elections but with the kind of budgetary constraints I wouldn’t see these elections being held in the next one or two years,” he said. 
“That is definitely an illegality because once your term of office has expired, you are not supposed to continue acting. But if you have a government that does not respect the basic principles of the rule of law, then they look at such illegalities with a blind eye,” he added. 
Mr Niwagaba said the fact that the functions of local councils are not entrenched in the Constitution, could explain the casual manner with which the government handles them. He attributed the current runaround to find funds to misplaced government priorities.