I was excited to hear that The Anti-Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 was yet again in the house for another reading. This comes hot on the heels of a survey, ‘Who Pays the Piper’ released by civil society recently in which money was underscored as a key ‘influencer’ in elections. Many of the MPs interviewed in the course of this survey confirmed that the cost of competing for a parliamentary seat had increased almost ten times since 2001, they also expressed fears that only the “super rich” will be able to run for elective office if the cost for competing for parliamentary seats continues to rise at the same rate it has, over the last ten years.
It is commendable that progress is being made towards understanding the role of money in elections especially here in Uganda. Just the other day, during the Busia LCV by-election, everyone – the NRM, the opposition and the EC were universally concerned about the amount as well as role of money being injected in that by-election (by candidates). Because there are no clear frameworks that govern campaign spend in Uganda, those who have the money inevitably stand at a much higher pedestal in political races than those who have less. The question here however is beyond who has more or less, but an issue of how campaign money is obtained and used. Emerging trends seem to obligate candidates running for political offices to coax the electorate not with policy proposals or actions but with money and material things.
Even though there is an increasing concern about the amounts splashed during elections (especially on bribing and buying votes), there doesn’t seem to be equal interest in questioning the sources of funds that candidates deploy while electioneering. And because not much vigilance is being put on sources of campaign finance, many of those involved in electioneering get away with raising campaign money through unscrupulous ways including laundering and blatant misappropriation of public funds.
Unregulated money coming in from all sorts of malevolent sources is gradually eroding the meaningfulness of elections. There is a growing bad belief that one can simply buy their way into political office if they have the sufficient money to buy a significant portion of the constituency’s electorate. This of course corrupts the entire electoral process and poses major dangers including making elections mere democratic charades which money can simply buy.
As we head towards 2016, we must collectively avert any situation, which puts the vote in the hands of money, more so, ‘black money’. We must vehemently denounce the skewed philosophy that those who have ‘the money’ make the rules and the agenda.
Strategic investment in understanding sources of these enormous campaign funds that we see today is very critical.
Government must raise vigil to check any flow of ‘black money’ from external sources and likewise the public ought to monitor any acts of elements that dip their rapacious hands into the public coffers.
In the same spirit, as a body mandated to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections, the Electoral Commission (EC) should conduct due diligence to ascertain candidates’ sources of campaign monies but also stringently counter the misuse of money during election periods. Part of this oversight process could include inviting candidates/parties to disclose sources of their campaign funds as well as asking them (candidates/parties) to file their campaign budgets with the EC prior to the campaign time.
Empowering citizens to report suspicious acts such as movement of large sums of money and illegal acts of vote buying could also provide ideas to help track sources of campaign finances.
Beyond some of the proposed regular campaign finance tracking mechanisms, the EC should at an overall level consider an Election Finance Monitoring cell to monitor the sources and use of money during the poll season.
The dangers of huge amounts of unclear campaign money are looming large on Uganda’s political horizon and something needs to be done, now!