We need to check election financing
I recently received a call from an estranged friend from University, the subject matter of the phone call was money. He said that since he heard that I worked with Parliament, he hoped I would give him some money since we (us who work with Parliament) are knee deep in money given the ongoing campaigns. Puzzled, I figured, he did not receive the memo that I work with Parliament Watch Uganda, which monitors the progress of Parliament to ensure its transparency and efficiency among other things. His assumption is not far-fetched given that it is really expensive to run for office in Uganda and merely being affiliated to politics rendered you a golden egg laying goose.
A recent study by Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) reported that election spending now is 15 times more than what was 15 years ago. The study that explored the relationship between money and voters choices noted that on average a Member of Parliament spends UGX 4.6m each time he/she visits a constituency. The money in question for, but not limited to voter bribery.
The sources of this money is called into question since many of the candidates do not earn this much. It is a common practice for Members seeking a term in office to borrow for the campaigns, it’s no wonder the office is then treated as an investment. When elected, members make it their primary goal to re-amass whatever wealth was spent during campaigns, unfortunately, these are the lucky ones who actually win an election. Defeated candidates normally limp back to their day to day lives although, financially damaged. There are those taunted by the thought of money lenders, banks and political financiers knocking on doors to collect debts
Evidence shows that a number of our elected representatives are the ones who spend the most and this not only creates a leadership vacuum since money minded people are the ones elected but it also affects the quality of debate in Parliament. It also maps out the decisions that come out of the legislature. Many would be MPs with substance are left out simply because they cannot afford. MPs have been accused of taking bribes, creatively euphemized as allowances to stir decisions a certain way. For example, the creation of new constituencies saw each MP get UGX 10M in disturbance allowances.
Civil society has called for a regulation on election financing, one clearly reflecting best standards that are widely practiced, for instance, setting caps on how much can be spent on any given campaign, declaration of sources of funding and accountability. Also emphasizing timelines and punitive measures against non-compliance like Uganda’s East African counterparts Kenya and Tanzania. Parliament should heed to this
Uncontrolled campaign expenditure is a real problem, its effects are guised in inflation, voter bribery, and political patronage can be averted, only with concerted efforts of all stakeholders (candidates themselves, political parties, the electoral commission, civil society and voters.) If our MPs complain about their pay, that’s partly because of how expensive it is to become one and as long as it remains so, parliament will struggle to attract truly representative MPs resulting into decisions tainted with mediocrity; because members are easily financially compromised and in an attempt recoup their campaign expenditure their vote is available to the highest bidder.