Uganda to vote for LCs by lining up behind candidates
On 24 July 2015, the Ugandan parliament passed the Local Government (Amendment) Bill 2014. The bill’s objective is among others to amend the Local Government Act to provide for the lining up procedure of electing Local Council I & II leaders, rather than use of secret ballot.
During its second reading, Hon Adolf Mwesige, Minister for Local Government, informed the house that the country last held LC I & II elections in 2002. He added that currently there are over 60,000 villages and 7,000 parishes which put the cost of organizing secret ballot elections at Ugz 500 billion. He thus urged legislators to invoke Article 68(6) of the Constitution, which empowers Parliament to exempt any public election, other than the presidential or parliamentary elections from the requirement of voting by secret ballot
In its report to the house on the bill, the Public Service and Local Government committee recommended three options, that is;
1. Secret Ballot
This the committee deemed democratic and fair because it ensures freedom of expression and protects the interests of the citizen, notwithstanding the cost of Ugx 505 bn, required to cater for human resources, logistics and ballot papers. However, the committee noted that the mode would cost Ugx 72,099,212,300 after removing the requirement for the Electoral Commission to publish voters’ registers in the Gazette and post the same on the notice boards of all parishes in Uganda.
This requires a well-established ICT system, IT elite, human resource, electricity connections in all villages, internet connection in the whole country, computers at all polling stations and data backup systems, among others. As was the experience in Kenya, Uganda is not ready for E-elections. The cost of E-elections was not projected and with the technological requirements needed, the country cannot handle.
3. Lining Up
This mode of voting involves lining up behind the candidates, their representatives, portraits and symbols of candidates. The committee report described this as a very cheap and transparent mode, as it only requires human resource and logistical expenses cost. However, this may not be convenient to the working class and those ones who may want to tend to their gardens. This mode is expected to cost Ugx 35 bn which has already been allocated by government.
The committee reports further describe the shortcomings of lining up, including, intimidation of voters which may cause fear and disenfranchisement; disunity and hatred in the community as well as domestic violence.
However, many legislators described it as a transparent, corrupt free, affordable and democratic process. Milton Muwuma, MP Kigulu County South argued that: “The only way of eradicating corruption from the villages is by going transparent because it is one way of our people knowing that if they ate somebody’s things, they know the implications… if I know that I would not give Hon. Isabirye or Hon. Khainza my vote, I will not test the pot like our friends who normally sit at the pots”.
The country last held the LC I &II elections in 2002. In essence it is presumed that for the 2006 and 2011 elections, the government saved about Ugx 70bn, as the Electoral Commission (EC) didn’t conduct these elections. Therefore, if the saved funds are added on the Ugx 35bn that was allocated in the FY 2015/2016 we get Ugx 105 bn which can fully facilitate elections by secret ballot mode without the requirement of the EC to publish voters’ registers in the Gazette and posting them on the parish. They could even save a further UGX 32bn for 2021- meaning that the Local Government Minister’s argument of unavailability of funds does not hold.
It is important to note that reported violence in local council elections have been common even with secret ballot voting. Lining up behind candidates is bound to worsen the situation. This will require more police officers on the ground to ensure law and order, and with the resultant disputes, seeking justice in the courts of law will require increased expenditure. All these expenses could be averted by organizing better elections.
The main objective of LC elections is to enable the local people participate in the governance process of their communities and also to act as structures for service delivery. Being the village and parish gate keepers, it’s always these LC leaders who identify the beneficiaries of the various government programs in their respective areas of jurisdiction. However, in circumstances where a community member lined behind the rival of the eventual winner either the LC I or II, chances are high for him or her to miss out on any beneficial projects implemented by the leader. This does not only entail stifling of government programs as well as denying the rightful beneficiaries their opportunities but it also points to abuse of office and corruption by the local leaders.
All in all, the law needs to be revisited because it’s against the general objectives of decentralized governance.