EC in crisis talks over ballot papers

Friday October 30 2020
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Maj Gen (rtd) Mugisha Muntu, ANT’s presidential aspirant (centre), talks to Mr Mustapha Ssebagala Kigozi, a commissioner at Electoral Commission (right), at the electoral body offices in Kampala yesterday. Left is independent presidential aspirant Nancy Kalembe and Mr David Lewis Rubongoya, the secretary general of NUP (2nd right). PHOTO | KELVIN ATUHAIRE

By Patience Ahimbisibwe

The Electoral Commission chairperson, Justice Simon Byabakama, yesterday asked the procurement body to look at “the bigger picture”  and warned of “anarchy” in the country and a constitutional crisis stemming from the latest directives on ballot papers.

He said any attempts to force EC to comply with the Public Procurement and Disposable of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) decision on ballot papers, would mean postponing the 2021 General Election yet the law dictates clear deadlines.

“Whether there is Covid-19, lockdown [etc.], Article 61(2) doesn’t know any of those instances.  It’s immovable, rigid...We must all operate within this Covid-19 environment and ensure we comply with the Constitution,” Justice Byabakama told journalists in Kampala.

“Article 61(2) says we must hold elections within this time. Its Immovable, unshakable and unchangeable.  Even if Parliament says we have amended, they cannot amend it now. You must have ballot papers come rain come sunshine. If you don’t have, anarchy, a crisis in the country,”  he added.

On whether the local firms should be allowed to benefit from the $50m ballot printing deal, Justice Byabakama reiterated that local firms don’t have capacity to print the 187 million ballot papers needed in next year’s polls. 
The EC boss had just concluded a meeting with presidential aspirants where similar concerns were raised. 
The meeting sought to harmonise the aspirants nomination timetables for Monday and Tuesday next week.

This week, PPDA cancelled the ballot printing tender Justice Byabakama’s team had awarded to seven foreign firms and demanded that they re-evaluate the bids and consider local firms. 
The directive on ballot papers comes at a time when EC officials are preparing for presidential nomination next week. 

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The cancellation of the ballot printing tender followed a petition from the Uganda Printers and Packaging Association challenging EC claim that they don’t have capacity which was the basis for denying them the contract. 
Two local firms would later petition PPDA alleging inflated price and unfair treatment.

But Justice Byabakama warned that reevaluating bids would mean suspending elections and talked of discussion with PPDA to look at “a bigger picture” in protecting Article 61(2) of the Constitution. 
He said the EC activities had been interrupted by coronavirus which forced them to tighten their programmes so that they are able to elect the political leaders within the Constitution. 

 “If we are going to say we follow all the processes until everybody is satisfied, where is the time? Let’s be realistic. Let’s not only focus on legalism and ‘bubuism’. Let’s look at the realities. If you don’t have ballot papers come 2021, what next? Do you tell people that you are going to lineup to vote because you couldn’t produce ballot papers?” Justice Byabakama asked. 

He added: “That is unthinkable. The law doesn’t say that you lineup. It says secret ballot. We are having discussions with PPDA. Let us focus on the fundamentals. It was not our desire to deny the Ugandan printers an opportunity to print these ballot papers. I am not a technical person in printing. But our technical team said in their analysis, our local companies may not be able to do this work.”

The EC boss also said they would not want to experience what the commission went through in 2016 after some people they had contracted to deliver the ballot papers delayed in Kampala and Wakiso. 

“In 2016, we delayed to deliver materials in about a few areas in Kampala. What happened? The roof nearly collapsed. What if the commission fails to deliver ballot papers or they come with all sorts of errors? For the good of this country, we are operating under difficult circumstances brought by Covid-19. It has left us with little time,” he said. 

Presidential aspirants expressed fear in the EC demand to have each of them tested for Covid-19 before appearing for nomination. 
They also highlighted the 60 days they have been given for campaigning are few since the law requires them to visit at least each of the 145 districts which they said will not be possible.

They questioned EC’s decision to limit the number of people at a given meeting to 70 with Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) presidential aspirant Mugisha Muntu insisting it should only be tagged on the available space. 
But Justice Byabakama said they are are operating under “peculiar circumstances’ which all participants must adjust to. 

He said they have had to readjust their activities, including adding 10 cities that were recently passed, new constituencies and municipalities in their roadmap which they had concluded. 

“I am told no commission ever faced five months to polling to have new constituencies coming up? The commission had to go back to drawing board to demarcate. No commission has been faced with creation of older persons in Parliament, number of new town councils, no commission has ever had to organise an election in 10 cities at ago,” Justice Byabakama said. 

What stakeholders say

NRM secretary general Kasule Lumumba:»“Ballot papers have to be printed locally to save taxpayers’ money. Each presidential candidate will have an agent to monitor the processes of printing the papers to the time they are delivered at polling stations. That is why government is taking a decision that lets print ballot papers here. Part of solving effects of Covid-19 is to make sure we don’t take money outside.” 

 Presidential aspirant Nancy Kalembe: “Our country is being run down and there is a gap in leadership. There is a lot that can be done. There is no one man that can have the vision and ability to run the country alone.” 
Mr John Katumba, presidential aspirant: “This is not going to be a free and fair election. All the processes fall somewhere. Its NRM guiding all of us. NRM was dominating the meeting on everything. All statements that were made by Ms Lumumba were taken. Ours were rubbished.” 
 
Impact on elections 
The EC has set January 14 as the polling day for Parliamentary Elections and will have to conclude all elections not later than February 10. However, following the PPDA decision halting the ballot paper printing tender, EC will need up to 45 working days to complete the revaluation process.

After the revaluation, the display of the winning bidder takes 10 working days and the law provides for another 10 days for administrative review process in case a bidder protests the outcome of the evaluation. 

If the application for administrative review is rejected by the Procuring Entity (EC), an aggrieved bidder can petition PPDA which will take a decision within 21 working days. 
If the bidder is not satisfied with the PPDA decision, the law allows him/her to appeal to the PPDA Appeals Tribunal, which is required to deliver its final verdict within 15 days.

In the foregoing, this means that completion of the process of revaluation and the likely arising litigation could take up to 100 days (three months). 

Even if the revaluation exercise was expeditiously concluded by January, the period required to complete the process of printing and delivery of ballots to EC would spill into late February or March, which is past the constitutional deadline for elections.

Under the constitution, the elections for president, parliament and local government councils must be held within the first 30 days of the last 122 of the current term of government. 

The term of this government ends on May 12, meaning all the elections must be concluded by February 10 or else there will be a constitutional crisis. 
 
 pahimbisibwe@ug.nationmedia.com

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