For majority voters in the country, money is everything, more important than anything else, a new report by a local research organisation, Alliance for Finance Monitoring (ACFIM, has revealed.
In the run up to the 2021 campaigns, seven major political parties, including the National Resistance Movement, spent Shs250b on the understanding that money is a crucial determinant of whether or not a candidate will win the race.
The report titled ‘Pre-campaign Spending Monitoring: Reflections ahead of 2021 National Elections’ maintains that in Uganda, money is the most preferred mode of campaigning by candidates vying for positions of Member of Parliament (MP) and other local government positions.
At least 89.7 per cent of the respondents indicated that money is a preferred choice for campaigns. The study, conducted between July 2019 and October 2020, sought to establish the amount of money various candidates and political parties spent in the pre-campaign period.
The survey sampled 939 respondents from 70 constituencies, 14,169 villages and 29 districts. Of those sampled, 615 were candidates vying for various political offices aspirants.
As a result, experts have expressed concern that the quality of leaders Uganda gets after elections might decline since the electorate premise their decision on candidates that give them money as opposed to their ideas and the issues affecting the country.
Some leaders, who talked to Daily Monitor last evening, however, blamed the rise of money-minded voters on the Covid-19 pandemic and a bleak economic situation in the country.
Mr Eddy Kayinda, the lead researcher and programme officer at ACFIM, talked of bad leaders and poor debates, particularly in parliament.
“When democracy is highly commercialised, we have bad leaders. Actually the highest cost of commercialised democracy is bad leadership,” Mr Kayinda said.
“Instead of using ballot paper, people are using the banknote to determine Uganda’s democracy which is bad for our democracy,” he added.
The latest findings show that candidates sourced the money from personal savings, loans, personal businesses, and pension while others sold their personal property.
Part of the money was given as direct cash to voters, support to social initiatives such as schools fees, contribution to religious institutions and functions such as funerals, weddings and birthday parties.
Other expenses were made on social service projects such as roads, economic empowerment and health facilities in the constituencies.
This money was channelled through saving schemes (Saccos) and undisclosed special purpose organisations.
The country was divided into 12 sub-regions in order to track the big election spenders. Ankole topped with 15 per cent followed by Kigezi at 12 per cent and Bunyoro at 11 per cent. Lango (5 per cent), Acholi (5 per cent) and Sebei (4 per cent) were the least spenders.
“Expenditure in the northern, east and West Nile was done through investment to personal support programmes such as medical bills. That shows you that voters in eastern and northern Uganda are more vulnerable to voter bribery than those in western Uganda,” Mr Kayinda said.
NRM topped in terms of pre-campaign expenditure with Shs11.3b, followed by the Democratic Party (DP) with Shs2.5b and the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) came third Shs1.3b. On the lower tier was Justice Forum (JEMA) with Shs99m, National Unity Platform (NUP) with Shs251m and the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) at Shs441m.
Mr Kayinda also talked of a desperate population on account of the Covid-19 pandemic and predicted that “If in the 29 districts, we have spent more than Shs250b in pre-campaign period alone, then, the cost of campaign is going to double because candidates in the very final stages of the process, especially in the last one week, that is when you are going to see most of the money flowing.”
“So the cost of campaign is going to double and also the cost of entering a political office because politicians and aspirants have generally accepted that politics is about eating and that is,” he added..
Ipod boss speaks out
The chairperson of the Inter-party Organisation for Dialogue (Ipod), Mr Asuman Basalirwa, defended the expenditure, saying politicians spent the money on the logistical needs of the electorates. He also explained that spending on electoral activities is inevitable because candidates have to finance their movements through constituencies.
“The people aspiring for different political positions are carrying a very big burden and in that regard, you find aspirants buying fuel for district tractors, constructing schools and buying ambulances,” Mr Basalirwa said.
He, however, blamed monetised politics on government failure to better social service delivery in communities.
“The expenditure contributes to the various social services and this clearly indicates a breakdown in social service infrastructure in the various parts of the country,” he said.
Mr Basalirwa recommended that “government allocates more resources to restoration of infrastructure such as roads, hospitals and also empower the people economically.”
“We need to sensitise the citizenry on the role of various officer holders and if we don’t do that, these office bearers will continue to carry burdens that don’t belong to them,” he added.
Mr Kayinda suggests that government should enact a law to regulate expenses politicians incur before and during elections to safe guard the exercise.
“As ACFIM, we are recommending for a campaign finance law. This is happening because Uganda does not have a law that regulates commercial electoral financing. If we can have money capped on parliamentary and presidential elections such that there is declaration of sources and limit of how much a candidate can spend, then there can be hope to redeem our democracy.
NRM deputy secretary general Richard Todwong was invited but did not show up for the report launch. Efforts to speak to other party leaders were futile as none had responded by press time.
Electoral Commission speaks
The Independent Electoral Commission spokesperson, Mr Paul Bukenya, said he would need to access the ACFIM report before giving a detailed response about it.
“Use of money and election financing by various political parties is something we have taken seriously as a Commission. We have engaged the various political players on these matters but I cannot comment further on the subject because we need to first read report to make a more informed reaction to the findings,” Mr Bukenya said.
Additional reporting by Shabiba Nakirigya