Political Parties Funding Bill: Is it an attempt by NRM to win the 2011 elections?
FDC President Besigye and Chairman Kuggundu.

Political Parties Funding Bill: Is it an attempt by NRM to win the 2011 elections?

Political parties have been complaining of lack of funding for their activities while the ruling National Resistance Movement benefits from state funding.

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: April 25, 2008

The executive arm of government at the beginning of April 2008 presented to Parliament the Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill, which mainly provides for funding of political parties in Uganda. The bill was expected to bring happiness in political party circles, given that all political parties have been complaining of lack of funding for their activities while the ruling National Resistance Movement 'benefits' from state funding.

But the bill presented by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Prof. Khiddu Makubuya has instead generated more criticism and scorn from the opposition political parties. One wonders how a bill supposed to give political parties the much needed funding should be opposed by the organizations it is intended to benefit.

Prof. Makubuya says the purpose of the Political Parties and Organisations Amendment Bill is to amend the Political Parties and Organizations Act, 2005 to provide for the use of government or public resources for political party or organization activities.

According to the bill, registered political parties or organizations shall be funded in respect of elections and their normal day-to-day activities, but the funding shall be based on the numerical strength of each political party or organization in Parliament.

The way how the money for political party funding will be distributed is the major point of contention by political parties. Many of the political parties have strongly criticized the NRM of using the bill to legalize the funding of activities of the ruling NRM.

The NRM has an astounding majority in Parliament. In this 8th Parliament, the party has 210 MPs out of the 304 directly elected MPs. The majority of the 38 Independent MPs are also NRM-leaning MPs, while four of the five representatives of workers and four of the five representatives of people with disabilities in Parliament also belong to the NRM. This means the NRM will get about 78 percent of the total money that will be availed to fund political parties.

The 8th Parliament has
215 constituency representatives
79 district woman representatives
10 representatives of the Uganda People's Defense Forces
5 representatives of the Youth
5 representatives of People with disabilities
5 representatives of workers
16 Ex-official members

Political party representation in 8th parliament
NRM- 210
FDC- 39
UPC- 9
DP- 8
CP- 1
The balance of elected MPs are independents (save for UPDF representatives).

There is no doubt therefore that the Bill, if passed in its current form will greatly benefit the NRM party. No wonder, the NRM caucus meeting on April 13th 2008 agreed to support the bill for political party funding.

"The NRM caucus agreed in principle to support the Bill but the Attorney General asked for more time for consultation with ministers on members' concerns," says David Bahati the MP for Ndorwa west and Treasurer of the NRM caucus.

He says the NRM caucus members however want the Attorney General to clarify the "sort of activities that would be funded by the government".

The small political parties, especially those not represented in Parliament, have already protested the Bill as "discriminatory".

The President of the Peoples Development Party Dr. Abed Bwanika told journalists recently that if the Bill is made law in its current form, his party will challenge it in courts of law since denying legally registered parties funding because they lack representation in parliament is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Dr. Bwanika advised the government to allocate a minimum financial package that is satisfactory for a political party to operate up to grass root level.

Two politicians have also petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking to block the enactment the Political Parties Organisation Amendment Bill.

Charles Lwanga-Bbaale of the National People's Organisation and Apollo Nyabongo of the Movement Volunteers Mobilisers Organisation said in their petition that the Bill, if passed, would violate their constitutional rights. They said the Bill discriminated against parties not represented in Parliament.

They instead advised the government to contribute funds or other public sources towards all duly registered political parties and organizations across the board. They however agree that the bill should maintain the idea of additional funding to parties or organizations with representation in Parliament, basing on their numerical strength.

However, the Attorney General who is a member of the NRM party dismisses the allegations that the Bill is aimed at funding the ruling party. He says funding political parties is meant to avoid political parties and organizations from soliciting for donor aid, which could compromise their (political parties' and organizations') national interests, integrity and independence.

While this clearly shows the NRM party will benefit more, there is no indication so far that the political parties will agree on how the money for political party funding should be shared amongst the registered political parties.

Some people had proposed that the bill be adjusted to consider funding political parties basing on their strength at the grass root level other than strength in Parliament. But even if funding was considered based on grassroots support, the ruling NRM party has a clear majority representation at most local council levels and the biggest membership (in terms of IDs), which means the NRM will still have a lion's share of the political party funds.

Some people like Dr. Lulume Bayiga, the Secretary General of the Democratic Party are even asking the rationale of using tax payers' money to fund activities of political parties. He says this will just increase the tax burden on Ugandans, many of whom are chocking in poverty and unfair taxes that make daily life difficult.

Undoubtedly, funding political parties will increase administration costs of the government, since the government will have to audit the finances of all political parties.

The 'big' six opposition parties have in the past resisted what they call being clamped together with the new small political parties, some of whom they say were created by the NRM to weaken the opposition parties and to show the world that there are many political parties, after the restoration of multiparty politics in 2005. Uganda currently has about 50 political parties registered. To say that all political parties should be funded not withstanding their size and or political activity is as tricky as saying parties should not be funded. It is agreed that political competition (only ensured through political parties) is important for development of democracy. But having weak or financially caput political parties which can hardly undertake any activity is as good as having no political party.

Unlike Uganda Peoples Congress which owns Uganda House, other political parties have no clear source of funding including the National Resistance Movement (NRM) party which has ruled the country for more than 20 years.

The opposition led by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) President, Dr. Kizza Besigye has been has been calling for funding to their political party activities, while at the same time continuously blaming the ruling NRM party for using government resources to fund its political activities, while opposition parties have to find their own funding, mostly through membership fees. However, NRM Publicity Secretary, Mary Karooro-Okurut says the party is funded by member's contributions.

In the background of these arguments and counter arguments is the fact that the ruling party gains strength from using government resources to boost its structures, as well as financial muscle to out compete other political parties. From 1986 to 2005, the movement (one party) government consolidated its self to form the NRM in 2005 when pressure for multiparty democracy forced strongman Yoweri Museveni to form a political party. But some people argue that up to now, separating the NRM activities from government activities has been hard, with the two acting as one and the same.

It can even be said that UPC used its time when a ruling party to build its capacity to fund its own political party activities. Since politics is about manipulations and taking advantage, the current attempt to fund political parties is being largely viewed as an attempt by the ruling NRM to strengthen its self ahead of the 2011 elections.

Some political commentators say after having no "NRM House" (reference to UPC's Uganda House) after more than 20 years of state leadership, the NRM government is turning to a straight legal way of funding its activities by putting in place a law that will give the NRM massive resources to out compete other political parties in the race for who occupies state house and governs the affairs of the country.

In the past, the opposition has even criticized Museveni for putting up ministries like that of Security, which is occupied by the NRM Secretary General, Amama Mbabazi to indirectly provide funding for its party activities. Now the bill to provide open funding for political parties is in the house, no political party apart from the NRM seems to be ready to go for it. It remains to be seen how the NRM will react to opposition criticisms of the amendment bill and its intentions.

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: April 25, 2008
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