We need to check elec­tion fi­nanc­ing

By: Winnie Watera

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.

Are­cent 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.