Is Museveni being honest on voter bribery?

President Museveni looks as then Youth minister Ronal Kibuule hands over a sack containing money which the President had pledged to Busoga youth last year. FILE PHOTO

President Museveni says he despises politicians who bribe their way to electoral victory. It is dehumanising to the voter. It is bad manners on the part of the politician. And the President is bitter, even worried about this trend. His bitterness is shared, in heavier dosage, by his opponents. Hypocrite. That is how they all describe him.

While launching his 2016-2021 manifesto in Kampala recently, Mr Museveni said: “Why do you have to give money to voters? Who pays those who go to church? You have created a situation as if you’re employees of the population. They take you as if they have done you a favour by putting you in power. The relationship between voters and leaders should be in such a way that you move together.”

If that sounds like a heartwarming message, these words will surely mellow the heart more. In a recent article, Mr Museveni wrote, “If you vote for somebody who gives you some money, that person may not have the capacity to address your core interests-roads, electricity, education, security, Naads, etc; what will, then, happen?”

He added: “How will you, sustainably, get out of poverty and underdevelopment? Moreover, you, the voter, by voting the one who bribes you, rather than the one that can channel the resources from government to you, you disenfranchise yourself. Why?” He then went on to lampoon politicians who use personal money to fund elections.

But how honest is the president?
Leader of the Opposition in Parliament Wafula Oguttu says, “He is a hypocrite, he knows he is telling lies. He spent over Shs1 trillion in the last election and printed new notes and took the old ones to northern Uganda to buy his way to power.
He gives money and cars to bishops, he has been distributing iron sheets to people in northern Uganda to get their votes.”
Mr Oguttu reveals that the budget for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate in the 2011 election was Shs3b and that is all they spent. The party has, however, budgeted Shs20b for the 2016 race but he is confident they will not raise it and this year’s budget too could fall just within the Shs3b mark.
From the start of the campaign, the party has hardly spent shs100m as supporters contribute for the flag bearer’s fuel.
In December last year, the Observer newspaper in an article titled The cost of neutralising Mbabazi reported that Mr Museveni had spent nearly Shs75b in counterbalancing his former prime minister Amama Mbabazi, claiming the monies were doled out to feed the ruling party’s patronage network and buy off real or perceived Mbabazi allies. Neither Museveni nor his handlers denied the story. Mr Oguttu’s claim of shs1 trillion as the bill for Museveni’s 2011 victory cannot be independently verified essentially because of the nature of Mr Museveni’s campaign, with several power centres, each wielding financial and political power of its own.

Uganda People’s Congress stalwart and lawyer Peter Walubiri agrees with the president’s assertions on voter bribery but cannot forgive him for what he calls shameless hypocrisy.
“The tragedy is that he doesn’t practice what he preaches.
State House has turned into a forex bureau and the whole electoral cycle, right from the NRM primaries to the current election is characterised by bribery from him. That is how he has destroyed the soul of my friend Jimmy Akena (UPC faction leader),” the lawyer told this newspaper in an interview.

Makerere University political science don Sabiti Makara agrees with Wafula and Walubiri adding, “I don’t believe him because I saw him give a sack of money to his supporters in Busoga and he does this even before the election campaign starts. In 2011 inflation hit 30 per cent because money had been pumped into circulation on the premise of the election.”

Museveni’s own record in regard to voter bribery is bloated. In the 2001 and 2006 landmark supreme court petitions, Kizza Besigye Vs Electoral Commission and Yoweri Museveni, voter bribery was a touchy issue. In the 2006 petition particularly, where Besigye polled 2,570,603 (37.36%) against Museveni’s 4,078,911 (59.28%), high profile members of the FDC testified against Museveni though the Supreme Court dismissed majority of their testimonies as hearsay and faulted them for not corroborating their claims.

Ingrid Turinawe, the then National secretary for Women (FDC) and a Parliamentary Candidate for Rukungiri women representative claimed in that case that, “the NRM agents were stationed at all roads and paths leading to polling stations distributing money to voters leading to the polling stations, especially in sub counties of Buhunga, Ruhinda, Nyakisenyi, Kebesone and Bwamoka.”

Augustine Ruzindana, a member of the National Campaign Committee for Besigye in charge of research and a deputy secretary general of FDC then claimed” “a week before polling day, Shs50,000 was paid to all LC 1 chairpersons in the whole of Ntungamo District by agents of Mr Museveni,” adding: “On the eve of polling day and on polling day itself, there was widespread distribution of money by agents of Museveni to registered voters to induce them to vote for him.”

Museveni’s brother, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh was dragged in, denying allegations that he had neither bought off structures of FDC in eastern Uganda nor bribed any voters in Kayunga and FDC agents in Hoima District.

On these wide spread allegations of voter bribery, former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki held, “I do not accept the submission of Mr. Wandera Ogalo (Besigye’s lawyer) that there was nation-wide bribery which rendered the entire electoral process not to be free and fair, and to subvert the will of the people. It seems to me that the incidents of bribery were few and isolated and it may well have been that some of the money sent down for facilitation may have been seen as a bribe or used to bribe voters in certain cases.”

On the face of it, analysts say Mr Museveni’s assertions on voter bribery are spot on. His actions however evoke the words of James 1:26, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless,” and Matthew 7:5 “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

The law on voter bribery
Bribery is defined in Section 64 of the Presidential Elections Act. Subsections (1) and (2) of that Section define corruption as follows:

“(1) Any person who either before or during an election with intent either directly or indirectly to influence another person to vote or to refrain from voting for any candidate, gives or provides or causes to be given or provided any money, gift or other consideration to that other person, commits the offence of bribery and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding seventy two currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both.”

(2) Any person who receives any money, gift or other consideration under Subsection (1) also commits the offence under that Subsection.”

There are exceptions provided under the Section which specify circumstances where gifts or consideration may be offered or received without amounting to bribery. It is provided under Subsection (3) that the provision of refreshments or food at a candidate’s campaign planning or organisation meeting does not constitute bribery where they are offered by a candidate or candidate’s agent, as an election expense, or offered by any person other than a candidate or a candidate’s agent, at his or her own expense.

Under the law it must be proved that the bribe taker is a voter. A person cannot be influenced to vote or refrain from voting unless he or she is a voter.