THE STICKY ISSUES IN GOVERNMENT FUNDING OF POLITICAL PARTIES
The sticky issues in government funding of political parties
Leaders of political parties represented in Parliament have criticized the government for deliberately violating the Political Parties and Organizations Act which provides that “in respect of elections they should be funded on equal basis”.
“Public funding of political parties is one of the critical elements engendering the multi-party dispensation”, said the President of Justice Forum (JEEMA) party, Hon. Asuman Basalirwa. He was one of the panelists at the post-2021 elections Townhall meeting organized by ACFIM on March 31, 2021, at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala.
The Political Parties and Organizations Act was amended in 2010 to permit political parties represented in Parliament, benefit from government funding. Accordingly, section 14 was introduced and framed as follows:
14 (a-c) Provides that Government shall contribute funds or other public resources towards the activities of political parties or organizations represented in Parliament in accordance with the following principles:
- “Registered Political Parties or Organizations shall be funded by Government under this Act in respect to elections and their day-to-day activities”
- “In respect to elections, the government shall finance political parties and organizations on equal basis”
- “In respect to normal day to day activities, funding shall be based on the numerical strength of each political party or organization in Parliament”
Since 2010 when these amendments came into force, government did not implement them until 2015 when the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development released UGX 10 billion ($2.7 million). The formula applied in sharing this money was that which is prescribed under section 14(c) – numerical strength of each political party or organization in Parliament.
The party in power (NRM) which boasts of a commanding majority in Parliament, took the lion’s share of the money as illustrated below:
Since 2015 until now, government has been releasing the funds annually and on every occasion, the yardstick applied has been that of numerical strength in Parliament for the obvious reasons – it strengthens the financial muscle of the party in power while leaving only trifles to be shared among the opposition political parties. The expending institution of this money is the Electoral Commission.
Section 14 (b) of the same Act, which commands Government to fund Political Parties in respect of elections for which the formula prescribed is “equal basis”, has been deliberately ignored even when the current Chairman of the Electoral Commission is a Judge of the Supreme Court.
In 2015 and twice in 2020 when a total of UGX 20 billion ($5.5 million) were released in the middle of election campaigns, the formula applied was that of numerical strength contrary to section 14(b) of the Political Parties and Organisations Act (as amended) 2005.
By applying the numerical strength formula, National Resistance Movement which is the party in power took UGX 12.5billion out of UGX 15billion that was released for political parties represented in parliament. This was at the time most political parties needed money to facilitate the general election activities. Other political parties received peanuts as shown in the table below.
UGX 15 BILLION BUDGET ALLOTTED TO POLITICAL PARTIES REPRESENTED IN PARLIAMENT
NUMBER OF SEATS
National Resistance Movement
Forum for Democratic Change
Uganda People’s Congress
This begs several questions:
- Is it possible that section 14 (b) is not understood by the Ministry of Finance, Planning, and Economic development, nor the Electoral Commission?
- It is possible that Justice Simon Byabakama is not able to interpret the law correctly?
- Is it possible that the elections referred to in the provision aren’t the elections organized by the Electoral Commission?
- Who stands to lose when political parties are funded on equal basis in respect of elections?
The secret known is that the Electoral Commission and the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development are complicit in a deliberate attempt to deny political parties’ oxygen – money – during election campaigns to avoid a situation where they give the party in power a “bloody nose” during elections.
ACFIM is working with JEEMA and other opposition political parties to seek legal interpretation in the constitutional court on whether the Electoral Commission and Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development have latitude to ignore the command of the law.