Political Party Funding Bill: Will the proposed Bill enhance democracy in Uganda?
Who gets more public funding? FDC's Kiiza Besigye consults now FDC's Yonasani Kanyomozi.

Political Party Funding Bill: Will the proposed Bill enhance democracy in Uganda?


The debate on what transpired in the 2006 elections seems to be withering and something new has come up.

By Gideon Munaabi
more from author >>
First published: September 13, 2007


Not so long ago, anti-Movement political system activists in Uganda cried foul, went to courts of law and told everyone that cared to listen (or not) that they were conscripted against their consent under that monolithic political system. Many opposition politicians at the time of the elections of 2006 held this view, which has been inherited by newcomers into the 'opposition boat' as well as politicians that belong to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) who include the current first Deputy Prime Minister (also Minister for East African Affairs), Eriya Kategaya


"I consider that (conscription) a breach of my rights to belong to a political party of my choice. That is why I have occasionally got on President (Yoweri) Museveni's nerves by saying he should apologise to Ugandans for denying them their right to belong to their desired parties for 20 years," Cecilia Ogwal, an opposition (Uganda People's Congress) leaning member of parliament (MP), who stood as an independent in the last (2006) elections said in a recent interview.

DP rally: Would numbers help them?
DP rally: Would numbers help them?

It is now about two years since political space in Uganda was officially opened up. Dozens of political parties were registered - including old timers like Uganda People's Congress (UPC), Democratic Party (DP), Conservative Party (CP) and the new comers like Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), People's Progressive Party (PPP) and Forum for Integrity in Leadership (FIL), as well as the NRM, which then 'officially' evolved into a political party. This registration happened shortly before the 2006 general elections, which the incumbent NRM won. NRM was followed by new comers FDC and old players DP and UPC trailed in the number of valid votes cast. In the presidential elections, UPC (which governed Uganda twice before) trailed Dr. Abed Bwanika, an independent candidate.

The debate on what transpired in the 2006 elections seems to be withering and something new has come up. The political parties now want to be funded by the Ugandan taxpayer. "Because of the unfair means by which the Movement (NRM) political party was established, it is important that other parties be funded too. I say unfair because the Movement, which is now a party, was able to run using state resources. It is still doing so. For example, it employs Resident District Commissioners (RDCs). The role RDCs play is political in nature yet in the multiparty dispensation, the RDCs should be akin to traditional District Commissioners (DCs), who should be non-partisan," Ogwal explains.

NRM supporters celebrate victory after Uganda's 2006 elections
NRM supporters celebrate victory after Uganda's 2006 elections.

The proposed bill comes at a time when many political parties have failed to set up branches nationwide while others (including the ruling NRM) have had some of their offices closed for non-payment of rent. Some parties have asked their branch offices to find ways of generating money from 'other sources' to fund and sustain party activities. This is also a time when the different political parties (with the exception of FDC) have failed to account to Uganda's Electoral Commission how they spent funds provided to aid their presidential campaigns in 2006, as provided for in the Political Parties and Organizations Act (POA).

One of the excuses DP fronts for failure to account for this money is that they cannot account for funds they are not receiving from the state coffers. In as much as many politicians from both the opposition in Uganda support public funding for their parties (maybe because they are all broke as shown by the financial problems many are currentl facing), there is a dilemma on how this funding will be conducted such that Uganda can benefit from proper democracy. Will the state fund all registered political parties, big and small?

Since they discovered that the current Ugandan government intends to start funding political parties, political party leaders in Uganda have not shown any concern about the source of the money. Rather, they are more interested in the figures and in what ratios it will be divided amongst the parties. No clear formula has yet been agreed on. There is a debate on whether it will be only parties that are represented in Uganda's Parliament that will benefit or it will be all parties.

Some voices advocate for more money for the smaller parties than for the bigger parties to help the former grow to compete effectively. Makerere University's Prof. Simba is an advocate of this view but says it is not easy to implement. "Small political groups need to be helped to grow. So, funding for these groups becomes inevitable," he told a recent consultation meeting on the bill. This formula is called Short Money. Short Money is meant to assist an opposition party carry out its parliamentary business, cover its travel and associated expenses and foot the running costs of the leader of the opposition's office. The ruling party is not entitled to funding under this system because it can draw on public resources to run its parliamentary business.

In this case, the NRM would not get the money because its Chief Whip is a cabinet minister, while its Chairman is the President of Uganda. FDC would receive more money than UPC and DP, because the leader of the opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, is their member. This formula punishes the ruling political party and benefits the leading opposition political party more, something the other members of the opposition and the ruling political party would not be happy about. The formula does not facilitate the growth of young political parties. That is the challenge this formula throws to fostering democracy.

The other formula is offered by Policy Development Grants where the parties that are not represented in the Parliament and those with only one or two MPs do not qualify for the money. This fund is administered by the Electoral Commission and some political commentators say that this is probably what the framers of the Political Parties and Organizations Act envisaged. This, again, falls short of assisting young parties to grow into competitive organisations.

The third formula is called Match Funding and is intended to encourage individuals to donate money to parties. For every person donation made to a party, the state matches the donation by a proportion whose percentage reduces depending on the increase in the amount donated. This way, parties with rich members would not gain unfair advantage and more poor citizens participate in party activities. Although this seems to be a well thought out idea, it may not work because some people could form parties after failing to get jobs, just so they can ask for donations the same way non-government oganisations (NGOs) do. At the end of the day, politicians would form a glut of political parties just to get money instead of competing for political office by coming up with helpful policies and programmes. On top of this, Uganda, (whose budget is still funded largely by donors) would inherit a bigger financial load to carry for few benefits.

Who gets more public funding? FDC's Kiiza Besigye consults now FDC's Yonasani Kanyomozi
Who gets more public funding? FDC's Kiiza Besigye consults UPC's Rubaihayo.

The other formula that is promoted is Grant per Party Member, which benefits the parties with big memberships more. This system even covers members who do not make donations or pay subscriptions to their party because they have low incomes or no incomes. The problem with this formula is that some political, parties could concoct membership figures to get more money or bribe citizens to take up membership.

Therefore, as the Ugandan Parliament debates the bill, these and more issues need to be scrutinised if funding for political parties is to bring about true democracy in Uganda. In any case, some Ugandan political scientists say that 100% democracy does not exist. Others have found the debate on democracy to be one way for them to access public funds for sharing amongst them. May the best formula be adopted!

By Gideon Munaabi
more from author >>
First published: September 13, 2007
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.