EC shells Shs3b on by-elections

NRM party candidate and late Speaker Jacob Oulanyah’s son Andrew Ojok addresses a campaign rally at Tegot Village in Akidi Sub-county, Omoro District, on May 17. He won the Omoro County MP by-election. PHOTO / FILE

What you need to know:

  • Available expenditures from the EC indicate that by-elections in Busongora County in Kasese District cost Shs890m, Bukimbiri Constituency in Kisoro District (Shs600m), Soroti City Constituency in Soroti District (Shs900m) and Gogonya Constituency in Pallisa District (Shs598m).

The Electoral Commission (EC) has spent a little over Shs3b on organising six by-elections inside this calendar year, a study by Saturday Monitor has revealed.

Available expenditures from the EC indicate that by-elections in Busongora County in Kasese District cost Shs890m, Bukimbiri Constituency in Kisoro District (Shs600m), Soroti City Constituency in Soroti District (Shs900m) and Gogonya Constituency in Pallisa District (Shs598m).

Taken together, this means Shs2.9b has been spent on the four by-elections. Figures for how much was splashed on the Omoro by-election after Shs2.5b was spent on the burial of former House Speaker Jacob Oulanyah were not readily available.

Ditto the amount spent on the Kayunga District by-election in which the deceased erstwhile chairperson, Muhammad Ffeffeka Sserubogo was replaced.

Conventional wisdom, however, suggests that the figure spent on both by-elections in Omoro and Kayunga pushed the cumulative figure past the Shs3b mark.

The figure has been greeted with mixed feelings. Experts hold that the figure is not reflective of the quality of elections that the Opposition has severally dismissed as predetermined.

The EC on its part insists that it only seeks the strictest fidelity to delivering free and fair elections. The Commission also attributed the high cost of elections to inflationary pressures that continue to buffet the Ugandan economy.

Shs1.5 trillion kitty

EC statistics that Saturday Monitor accessed, indicate that Shs868.14b was spent on the 2021 General Election. This is nearly twice more than the Shs476b that was used to hold the 2016 General Election. 

“This money is available because it is budgeted for,” Mr Jim Mugunga, the Finance ministry spokesperson, said, adding, “The moment we are told that there is an election upcoming, what we need is to see the budget from the EC and shall release the funds. Other operational processes are left to the Commission to deal with them.”

The EC strategic plan from 2019 to 2022 budgeted Shs1.5 trillion for the pre- and post-election process for the 2021 polls. The Shs1.5 trillion was disbursed in four tranches during the 2018/2019 (Shs155b); 2019/2020 (Shs400b), 2020/2021 (Shs357b) and 2021/2022 (Shs15b) financial years.

Armed with the Shs1.5trillion, the EC would go on to spend Shs47,000 per voter during the 2021 General Election that saw President Museveni poll 58.38 percent against Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine’s 35.08 percent. The voter turnout dropped to 59.35 percent after the spectre of violence continued to hover above the election. EC figures indicate that 18,103,603 voters registered to take part in the 2021 polls.

Cost per voter

Our calculations show that the EC spent a little over half its outlay per registered voter during this year’s by-elections. The cumulative average spent works out to Shs25,000 per registered voter. For instance, Soroti East Constituency—which has 36,481 registered voters, with a total expenditure of Shs900m—had an average cost of Shs24,000 per person.

In Gogonyo Constituency, about Shs23,000 was spent per voter. The constituency has 25,615 registered voters.

Mr Leonard Mulekwah, the EC secretary, told Saturday Monitor that the money in question is used to purchase electoral materials, update the voters’ registers, recruitment and deployment of field staff, printing of ballot papers and welfare of officers, among others.

“There are many things that have changed over time, including the number of voters and the size of constituencies. We also have so many payments we have to make with the current inflation in the country,” Mr Mulekwah said.

Heavy price to pay

In the run-up to Kenya’s 2017 polls, a pre-election report indicated that Uganda’s eastern neighbour had the highest cost per person in an election. The average cost in Kenya was put at about $25.40 (about Shs97,000), followed by Ghana at $12 (about Shs46,000), and Rwanda, which was estimated to spend $6.5 (about Shs25,000).

Mr Crispin Kaheru, an elections observer, says these expenses or budgets can be avoided if the polls are conducted within the legal prescribed practice.

“…if we have to minimise by-elections, stakeholders should uphold the principles of integrity, legality and credibility in elections. For as long as stakeholders violate any of the above general principles, we will continue spending money to conduct by-elections,” he says.

He adds: “Elections have become a zero-sum game, meaning they’ve increasingly taken a win-lose nature. When one candidate wins an election, they take it all and those who lose, lose it all. This has led to a hostile and adversarial approach in campaigns, in elections and in politics generally. It is possible for candidates to feel part of a win if we reform our current system.”

Last week, the Opposition formally agreed to work together on different fronts of protesting a range of electoral malpractices. This followed a hotly contested Soroti East election in which Mr Kyagulanyi and former Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party president Dr Kizza Besigye canvassed votes for the FDC candidate, Mr Moses Attan.

The ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party candidate, Mr Herbert Edmund Ariko, marginally beat Mr Attan to the MP seat. Mr Attan has since contested the results in court. The Opposition also cried foul when they came up short during by-elections in Omoro and Kayunga districts.

Mr Alex Waiswa Mufumbiro, the National Unity Platform (NUP) deputy spokesperson, says he would have no qualms with the cost of elections if the outcome was reflective of the people’s mandate. It is a sentiment that is shared by Mr Harold Kaija, the FDC deputy secretary general.

“It is only money that people are meant to eat because even when you go to court, you don’t get the verdict you deserve. You saw the issue of Soroti [East County], it was manufactured in courts of law and the by-election was not managed by the EC,” Mr Kaija says.

Other political commentators have argued that the money that is budgeted for by the EC is not all that the country loses when there is a by-elections and other polls.

Ms Miria Matembe, the former executive director for the Citizen Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), told Saturday Monitor thus: “Are there elections in Uganda even? This is just an opportunity for people to eat and loot from the government coffers.”

She added: “Why would we have, for instance the prime minister, the President and the Vice President campaigning and giving money in one area for one position? That is thuggery. I gave up on Uganda and everything in this country.”

Mr Paul Bukenya, the EC spokesperson, remains optimistic. He says: “The EC has a mandate to organise and oversee a free and fair election. In case of any contest, the candidate is free to go to courts of law. We have a specific time within which we have to organise another election in case the results we declared have been cancelled by the court.” 

The law

Section 3(1) (a,b,c) of the Parliamentary Elections Act, 2005

“Whenever a Member of Parliament dies or where the seat of a Member of Parliament becomes vacant under Article 83 of the Constitution, or where the seat of a member becomes vacant under Section 4, the clerk to Parliament shall notify the Electoral Commission in writing within 10 days after the vacancy has occurred; and a by-election shall, subject to Section 9,5 be held within 60 days after the vacancy has occurred.”

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