The question of the use of money in politics has been a matter of debate for quite some time now. It’s even more pronounced at a time like this when Uganda is preparing for the 2016 general elections. But does money truly influence political decisions or the voters?
In a paper titled; “He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune: The Role of Money in Uganda’s forthcoming General Elections”, Prof John-Jean Barya from the School of Law, Makerere University extensively discusses the issue of money in politics.
Prof. Barya presented the paper at the third in a series of five seminars being held by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration in the run up to the 2016 elections. The seminar took place in Senate Conference Hall, Makerere University on 16th November, 2015.
Explaining the role of money in Uganda’s electoral process, Prof. Barya outlined the campaign tactics used by the ruling NRM regime and particularly the President to seek and consolidate political support. He cited some of the examples as: the display of actual government work, however shoddy or undermined by corruption (roads, electricity, health centres, UPE, USE, student loans etc); Presidential donations from public resources; jobs given or promised especially for those who have fallen out of the NRM primaries; presidential pledges; paying debts/loans for NRM politicians or even opposition politicians and buying off opponents.
Prof. Barya argued that other politicians seem to have learnt from the President and are also using money to win support. “They are forced to use desperate methods of raising resources since Uganda’s elections have been personalized and commercialized. They sell or mortgage their property; engage in heavy borrowing; seek support or direct cash handouts from the President and fundraise,” he explained.
He however noted that money is not the only method used to influence or manipulate elections. “It is simply one of the means. The other two important instruments used in the elections are propaganda/media and the military,” he said. Prof. Barya explained that the President and to some extent contestants at the MP level use the military; the police and intelligence services to intimidate the opposition and the population. “This militaristic approach includes using militias and the so-called Crime Preventers. This has been so since 1996 when President Museveni offered himself for election for the first time. For instance during the 2001 elections several of these militias were created,” he said. The unconstitutional para-military forces include: Kalangala Action Plan (KAP), Popular Intelligence Network (PIN) known as Nyekundiire in Western Uganda, Arrow Boys, Amuka Group, and Labecca group in Gulu.
In his presentation, Prof. Barya extensively analysed the nature and character of the Ugandan State and the NRM regime; the electoral laws; the current strategy of the main protagonists (NRM-Museveni, FDC-Besigye, Go Forward-Mbabazi, Others) and their impact on the country’s electoral process. Commenting on the electoral laws, Prof. Barya said the opposition and civil society proposed a number of major reforms under the Uganda Citizens’ Compact on Free and Fair Elections but the government ignored all of them particularly the putting in place of a genuinely Independent Electoral Commission and instead merely labelled the current commission an Independent Electoral Commission while making it more subservient to the President. “The proposed reforms were deliberately brought late to Parliament and instead government proposed that it would set up another Constitutional Review Commission to, ostensibly deal, with major issues raised by among others, the opposition and Buganda. But the real reason was to defeat the demand for genuine electoral reforms,” he said.
He further stated that several laws intended to defeat the democratic process have been passed. These include the Kampala Capital City Authority (Amendment) Act 2015 directed against the Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago personally by providing for elections of the Kampala Lord Mayor to be effected by Councillors rather than by universal suffrage. The Public Finance Management (Amendment) Bill No. 25 of 2015 passed on 11th November 2015 removes the powers of Parliament to control expenditure of Public resources and instead “allows the President and the Executive to raid the Treasury unhindered”.
Prof. Barya expressed dismay at the lack of institutions and organised political forces that work for general interests. He called for an overhaul of the entire system in order to deal with issues of voter bribery, intimidation, rigging, a partisan Electoral Commission and all the problems associated with Uganda’s electoral processes.
The paper was discussed by Dr. Frederick Golooba-Mutebi who emphasised that money plays a critical role in elections, both legally and illegally. “There is a tendency to over sensationalise the role of money in politics but it has some legitimate uses,” he said, adding that all parties mobilise resources for elections/political purposes. Dr Golooba-Mutebi is an independent researcher, analyst and columnist.
Assoc. Prof. Sabiti Makara and Dr. S. K. Simba from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University argued that money does not necessarily translate into political support. Dr Simba gave an example of the current Member of Parliament of Butebo County, Dr Patrick Mutoni, who in the 2001 general elections made massive investment, especially in the health sector but did not win.
Commenting on Public Finance Management (Amendment) Bill No. 25 of 2015, Conservative Party President, also Lubaga South Member of Parliament, Hon. John Ken Lukyamuzi, said the President was acting through patrons to overturn events. He explained that the Speaker “deliberately refused him to express his views at the time the Bill was being discussed in Parliament”.
Human Rights Activist also Makerere University Council Member, Hon. Irene Ovonji-Odida, pointed to the collapse of State institutions as one of the factors undermining Uganda’s democratic process.
Prof. Sylvia Tamale from the School of Law, Makerere University called for public action against unconstitutional forms of governance. “If people are so cowardly to go to the streets, they should turn to the Constitutional Court,” she said.
The seminar was moderated by Independent Researcher and Political Analyst, Dr. John Kiyaga-Nsubuga. It was attended by among others, politicians, civil society activists, media practitioners, lawyers and academics. The seminars are supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
See below Prof. Barya's full presentation.