NRM shows off power of money

Some of the 'Yellow bicycles' that were distributed to different NRM local leaders on August 16, 2020. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

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Mr Okoler Opio Lo Amanu,  DP spokesperson 
 “We will pay the nomination fees for all our flag bearers for the position of MP and also print for them campaign posters. Those that have already paid should take their receipts to the party treasurer for a refund.”


Mr Harold Kaija, FDC deputy secretary general 
 “We realised some time back that however hard one campaigns, victory will be elusive if the vote is not guarded. Our package, therefore, includes a vote protection component. That includes allowances for the candidates’ agents at the polling stations .” 
Mr Robert Kyagulanyi, NUP leader
“…we have hundreds of parliamentary candidates all over the country. Nominations have drawn so close. Unfortunately, we are receiving so many calls from our candidates, especially from Western and Northern Uganda, who risk not being nominated because they don’t have the required Shs3m.” 
Prof Sabiiti Makara, Lecturer political science, Makerere University
“Local entrepreneurs would have been the biggest contributors to the growth of political parties, but they are not going to do so. They fear to because they would become disadvantaged in business if government got to find out. They then prefer to fund the ruling party.” 
 

The expenditure of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party  has already shot well past the Shs100b mark even before the nomination of presidential candidates and the commencement of actual campaigns ahead of next year’s general elections.

In August, the chairman of the ruling party, President Museveni, while flagging off the distribution of 68,733 bicycles as part of facilitation to NRM village chairpersons to mobilise for the party, announced that the party had acquired the premises housing the party headquarters on Kyadondo Road in Kampala at a cost of Shs7b.

Though Mr Museveni did not disclose how much the bicycles had cost the party, a random search around the market in Kampala showed that an ordinary Roadmaster bicycle similar to the ones that were distributed costs Shs450,000, which would put the value of the 68,733 yellow bicycles at Shs31b.

Mr Museveni also promised that all NRM sub-county chairpersons would be availed motorcycles and the NRM district chairperson with vehicles. 
According to the Electoral Commission, Uganda has 2,148 sub-counties/municipal divisions and 146 districts.
The Internet marketing website, www.tunda.ug puts the cost of a Bajaaj motorcycle at Shs4.7m. If the party dished out 2,148 Bajaaj motorcycles, it would mean it  forked out approximately Shs10.1b to procure them.

The vehicles are yet to be delivered to the party’s chairpersons in the districts, but a source at the NRM Secretariat told Saturday Monitor that the procurement process is already on. 
The one vehicle that is these days popular with State House is the Mitsubishi L200 double-cabin pickup, truck  which costs about $50,000 (about Shs188.6m) on the road. If the party were to distribute 146 of these, it would have to fork out more than Shs27.5b.   

The party’s director for communication, Mr Emmanuel Dombo, recently said once a candidate goes through the primaries, they become the responsibility of the party.
“It is now our (NRM’s) responsibility that that person is nominated, goes through campaigns, are elected for what they have aspired for…because of that we (NRM) make a very substantial contribution, including nomination fees and other costs (so) that a candidate may go through,” Mr Dombo said. 

That suggests that the party paid nomination fees for all its flag bearers in the 353 constituencies for directly elected MPs and the 146 women’s parliamentary seats. That would mean that the party has at least spent Shs1.5b on nomination fees for its parliamentary candidates.

Starving amidst plenty
However, whereas the NRM has been splashing the cash with so much ease, the same cannot be said of the parties that have come out to challenge it. 
In the run up to last week’s nomination of parliamentary candidates, some of the older parties in the Opposition, like the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and the Democratic Party (DP), announced that they would be providing some of their flag bearers in the constituencies with some logistical support. The packages varied.

The spokesperson of DP, Mr Okoler Opio Lo Amanu, said on October 13 that the oldest political party had raised at least Shs800m to facilitate their flag bearers’ campaigns.
“We will pay the nomination fees for all our flag bearers for the position of MP, and also print for them campaign posters. Those that have already paid should take their receipts to the party treasurer for a refund,” Mr Okoler Opio said.
FDC’s deputy secretary general Harold Kaija said what his party is offering is slightly different from what DP has to offer.


The Mitsubishi L200 double-cabin pickup truck, which costs about $50,000 (about Shs188.6m). PHOTO/NET

“We realised some time back that however hard one campaigns, victory will be elusive if the vote is not guarded. Our package, therefore, includes a vote protection component. That includes allowances for the candidates’ agents at the polling stations,” Mr Kaija said.
It is, however, crunch time for the newly formed Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) and the National Unity Platform (NUP) parties.
As nominations for parliamentary candidates drew close, NUP leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias, Bobi Wine, was compelled to launch a fundraising drive after it emerged that many of the party’s flag bearers could not raise the nomination fees.

“…we have hundreds of parliamentary candidates all over the country. Nominations have drawn so close. Unfortunately, we are receiving so many calls from our candidates, especially from Western and Northern Uganda, who risk not being nominated because they don’t have the required Shs3m,” Mr Kyagulanyi said.

Two days to the nominations the party had raised only Shs171million. That could only cater for 57 flag bearers. The party had initially lined up 427 people to contest for the various parliamentary seats, but only about 180 were nominated. It is not clear whether the others failed to get nominated for lack of funds to meet the cost of nominations. But the NUP secretary general blamed the fall in numbers on the disruptive court case that queried the legality of NUP.

ANT fundraiser
ANT’s fortunes have not been any better than those of NUP. Last week ANT launched a campaign through which the public can make contributions to both the party and towards its Presidential candidates’ bid. 

The donations were to be made through Airtel money, MTN Mobile Money and Credit or Visa cards.
In November 2010, FDC presidential candidate, Col Dr Kizza Besigye launched a Shs500 per-voter-per-week fundraising drive. Money was meant to be submitted by mobile money. The strategy was similar to the one employed by President Barrack Obama when he launched his presidential bid in 2008. 

Mr Obama then appealed to his supporters to depending on one’s financial capacity to donate at least $15 or more towards his campaign.
Whereas the party had by December 2010 claimed that it had received an “overwhelming response from its members”, they never came out to reveal how much it raised from the process.

Though there appeared to be a change in the public in the run up to and during 2016 general elections with several people making cash donations to facilitate former FDC Presidential candidate, Dr Besigye’s campaign, Prof Sabiiti Makara, who teaches political science at Makerere University, thinks that the ANT initiative will not yield any tangible results.

“Local entrepreneurs would have been the biggest contributors to the growth of political parties, but they are not going to do so. They fear to because they would become disadvantaged in business if government got to find out. They then prefer to fund the ruling party,” Prof Makara argues.

Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, however, believes that FDC’s 2010 initiative failed to work because of the mindset of most Ugandans, adding that the culture of expecting politicians and parties that seek the highest office to give must change if change is to come.
“People need to realise that if they want to have qualitative change, they should contribute towards it and the elite should lead the way. If 100,000 people were to each contribute Shs100,000 that would be Shs1b,” Gen Muntu said.

The former army commander argues that the populace will never achieve much unless it seeks to direct the politics by making financial contributions to political processes.
“The people need to realise that unless the culture where the corporate world funds the political changes, they will continue getting a raw deal. Imagine a situation where the leader of a corporation that contributed Shs1b towards a campaign walked into an office. Would he not influence policy?” he asks.

Fight for equity
Last week, the government reportedly released Shs15b to the Electoral Commission (EC) to fund political party activity. But instead of easing the financial pressures on the parties, it has led to renewed protestations, especially over the criteria used in sharing out the money.
Provisions of section 14(A)(c) of the Political Parties and Organisations (Amendment) Act 2010, provides that “funding shall be based on the numerical strength of each political party or organisation in Parliament”.
 That means that the NRM, with close to 300 MPs in Parliament, will take about Shs12b, FDC Shs1.5b, DP Shs600m, UPC Shs300m. JEEMA, according to its president Asuman Basalirwa, was allocated Shs41m.

Members of the summit of the Inter-Party Organizsation for Dialogue (IPOD) proposed in May 2019 that the sharing arrangement be replaced with one that would see 40 per cent of the funds sent to the office of the Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LoP), 15 per cent to the IPOD Secretariat and the rest to be shared out by the parties based on their numerical strength in Parliament. That resolution, it would seem, stayed in paper.

Last week, Mr Basalirwa who is also the MP for Bugiri Municipality, called for a review of the sharing mechanism, insisting that all political parties be given an equal share since the have all entered an election cycle.
Mr Basalirwa is advocating equitable distribution of funds such as seen under donor funded programmes like the Political Party’s Capacity Strengthening Project, which is run by the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD).
The country representative of NIMD, Mr Frank Rusa, says each party receives indirect funding to the tune of Shs1b per year.

“Because we work with all the parties together, we give them similar support targeting similar areas in equal amounts,” Mr Rusa says.


President Museveni


Uneven field
While launching the NUP fundraising drive, Mr Kyagulanyi accused Mr Museveni of using high nomination fees as a tool to block supporters of the Opposition from participating in politics
Mr Richard Todwong, the Deputy Secretary General of the NRM, however, says even those who support the NRM are suffering.

“Even us in the NRM are suffering. The only difference is that we have friends who make donations and the monthly donations from our MPs, but we have not yet gotten enough money. That is why we have not yet refunded our flag bearers’ nomination fees or contributed to their campaigns,” says Mr Todwong.
Disadvantaged from the start
Prof Makara says Opposition parties have been in a disadvantaged position since the Political Parties and Organizations Act was passed in 2005.

 The amendment in 2010, he says, which saw a provision for public spending introduced, did not make matters any better as it provided for a sharing mechanism defeats the purpose for which funding from  public coffers was intended.
“Political parties were meant to be vehicles for advancing multiparty democracy. Funding was meant to enable the parties grow as part of the process of strengthening democracy, promoting the rule of law and creating an environment that would lead to long term stability. Giving the lions’ share to the NRM means that the purpose has been defeated,” Prof Makara argues.
Prof Makara says there is need for the law to be revisited to allow for all political parties that are active to benefit from public funding.

“The law favours parties that have a foothold in Parliament and, of course, the ruling party. It (law) is actually another way of getting government to sponsor the ruling party’s activities. There is need for the law to be amended to cater for all registered political parties,” Prof Makara argues.
Mr Todwong says those calling for an amendment to the law just might have a point.

“They are right to say that the law is unfair, but the distribution formula and the decision on who gets the money was agreed on in Parliament. If there are those who are complaining and they have representation in Parliament, they should be taking it up there,” Mr Todwong argues.
The NRM has already outspent the opposition even before the whistle signaling the start of the game. With an additional 12b likely to be handed to it by the EC, it is clear that a cash strapped opposition will be both outspent and outcompeted.

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