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UGANDA: Political Parties Fail to Declare Funding

Joshua Kyalimpa

KAMPALA, Dec 18 2009 (IPS) - The Electoral Commission of Uganda says if they tightened the noose around parties which fail to declare election funding, all of them would probably be deregistered.

This would be a setback to the country’s democracy as the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and all the opposition parties have failed to declare their source of funding for elections.

Under the Uganda Constitution and the Political Parties and Organisations Act of 2005 (PPOA), political parties must disclose their sources of income to the electoral commission.

Parties are also supposed to audit their books of account every year, and the commission appoints independent auditors to verify.

Waswa Lule, former deputy inspector-general of government and member of parliament, says this requirement is crucial to ensure parties adhere to good governance.

“The framers of the constitution and the subsequent laws were aware that parties can be abused by their leaders, who may not be accountable to the members, and we have seen this before in almost all parties,” says Lule

But electoral commission chairman Badru Kigunddu says none of the parties – including the ruling NRM – has turned in their books of account.

“If we are to follow this requirement religiously we shall not have any functioning political party, because they have all not complied.

“The law mandates us to de-register parties that do not comply with the law, but we are still talking to comply with the law,” says Kigunddu.

Wafula Oguttu, spokesperson of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Uganda’s main opposition party, says they find it difficult to declare the source of their funds because sponsors could be reprimanded for supporting the opposition.

“Government views the opposition us enemies, and anybody who supports us financially may be regarded an enemy of the state.”

Oguttu says they find it unsafe to declare to the electoral commission because they are not independent and could therefore volunteer the same information to the government.

“President Yoweri Museveni, leader of the NRM, collects billions of shillings from the business people and his foreign friends, but will ensure that the opposition follows the law and does not raise any serious money,” says Oguttu.

He claims that business people who fund the opposition can be harassed. Garuga Musinguzi one the key financial supporters of the opposition FDC was forced to abandon ship because his business empire allegedly started crumbling as government denied him contracts.

Oguttu claims some businesses are blacklisted, never to do business with the government if it became aware they support the opposition.

Under the Uganda law private individuals and corporations cannot fund political parties as private businesses, and as such they can only bankroll them up to 00 million Uganda shillings (210,526 dollars), according to Article 71 (e) of the 1995 Constitution.

Jasper Tuhimbise, executive director of the Anti-corruption Coalition of Uganda, says non disclosure of income by parties should be taken seriously.

“There have been invisible funds allotted to candidates behind the scenes. It may not be permissible, but it has been acceptable and used around Uganda’s political sphere,” says Tuhimbise.

He tells IPS the parties are failing to account for such money, even to their members, and this poses a serious issue of accountability.

“These are governments-in-waiting, and some are already in government. They are supposed to lead by example, and if they cannot account now, what guarantees do we have that they will be accountable tomorrow?”

Section 14 of the PPOA also restricts corporations from using business profits to become sole funders of political parties.

They are restricted to 600 million Uganda shillings (315,789 dollars) a year in donations. But according to the global integrity report for 2008, some parties have succeeded in receiving more than this despite the inhibiting clause.

The then director of economic affairs in the External Security Organisation, Teddy Seezi Cheeye, revealed that the ruling NRM spent more than 52 billion Uganda shillings (about 25 million dollars) in the 2006 general elections. The party has never denied spending the money or explained where they got it from.

But party spokesman Ofono Opondo says Cheeye’s comments cannot be taken seriously, as he was not a party official privy to the information.

The Ugandan public is as divided on the matter as the politicians. Joseph Semuwemba, a Kampala trader, believes if the opposition discloses their funds it will enable the government to gauge how much to get from the state coffers to counter balance.

“Government are the ones who have set a wrong precedent. If the ruling party is not disclosing the source of their funds, how do you expect the opposition to do so?” asks Charles Mubiru.

“The electoral commission will not act on this because the ruling party is also guilty, and they cannot selectively apply the law – especially now that the opposition have demanded that they be replaced,” says Joseph Kikonyogo chairman of Forum for Democratic Change in for Kampala. Under Section 20 of the PPOA, political parties are not allowed to spend more than one billion Uganda shillings (526,316 dollars) a year, but most of the parties spend above that – especially during election year.

Opondo says most of the NRM’s funding is not registered because the masses inject money at grassroots level “out of love for the party, and never ask for recognition”.

But he says it is necessary for parties to disclose to the public the political items and activities they spend on, so that bribery and corruption – especially in the electoral process – can be checked.

Opondo says the declarations can then help identify the real areas on needs for raising and spending, and build consensus. “Since parties and their leaders seek to control state power, public policy and resources, it is imperative that their true driving force (funders and objectives) are clearly known.”

Tuhimbise says although corporate funding to political parties cannot exceed 600 million Uganda shillings (315,789 dollars) a year, in some cases the inhibiting clause has been flouted. He says some parties are receiving and transferring huge sums of money into pseudo accounts in order to avoid being questioned by the legitimate authority.

The law also requires political party candidates, especially presidential candidates, to account for all the money received during electoral campaigns, and disclose the sources of their funds, but there are no effective mechanisms to monitor how individuals or the parties get their funds, says Tuhimbise.

As a result, individuals and corporations fund parties and candidates as they wish.

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