Published by Patra K on

Ugandans set to lose billions on election petitions

Judges of the Supreme-Court during a hearing. (Photo courtesy of Daily monitor)

In less than a month, the 11th Parliament will be sworn in. However, chances of 104 newly elected MPs hang in balance following the court petitions they are faced with challenging their victory. According to a press report in the New Vision dated April 26th, 2021, these cases have been filed at various High court circuits.

This number is likely to increase as more petitions are anticipated to be in the pipeline. In the aftermath of the 2016 elections that were conducted in February, a total of 135 petitions had been filed in High Court by August that same year.

Under Articles 140 and 104 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, the Judiciary is mandated to hear and determine electoral petitions and these are required to be heard and determined expeditiously.
The common grounds for petitions have always been among others voter bribery, ballot stuffing, falsification of electoral results, lack of requisite academic qualifications all of which tantamount to electoral offenses.

What are the implications of an election petition to the taxpayer?
The Presidential election petition of National Unity Platform former presidential candidate, Kyagulanyi Sentamu Robert versus incumbent Yoweri Museveni Tibuhaburwa Kaguta cost taxpayers UGX 1.2 billion ($332,757) as revealed by Pius Bigirimana, secretary to the Judiciary while appearing before the budget committee of Parliament. According to a source within the High court, adjudicating an election petition costs not less than UGX 20 million ($5,546).

In principle, a judge presiding over an election petition should be from a different region. Together with a team comprising of a research assistant, clerk, bodyguard, and driver are entitled to perdiem, fuel for usually two cars attached to the judge, stationery that is used in court, and library fees to access material for research among others. Going by the current statistics of 104 pending court petitions, Ugandans will spend not less than UGX 2 billion ($554,595).

If conservatively half that number results in by-elections, Ugandans will have to bear the burden of paying for the costs associated with organizing a by-election. Accordingly, it costs Electoral Commission approximately UGX 500 million ($138,649) to organize a constituency by-election and UGX 700 million ($194,108) for an election in a district. Ugandans will consequently spend not less than UGX 25 billion ($30.5 million) to conduct by-elections.

The secret known is that electoral malpractices are costing Ugandans over UGX 27 billion ($ 32.2 million) on election petitions and by-elections combined.

Loopholes in the legal framework
As the law stands, election results annulled on grounds of any form of electoral offenses as stipulated in the Electoral laws of Uganda. The loophole is a failure of the system to hold accountable those that are found to have committed the electoral offense.

Ever since the electoral laws were enacted, the DPP has never prosecuted anyone on the charge of voter bribery. Additionally, upon declaring the seat vacant and a by-election ordered, there are currently no restrictions on a candidate found culpable for the electoral offense leading to the annulment of the results.
As it is the practice in Uganda, the perpetrators of the electoral offenses that lead to by-elections, are often the first to pick nomination fees to contest again and do what they do best, engage in electoral irregularities.

Pro-democracy advocates like Alliance for Finance Monitoring -ACFIM have argued that such candidates found culpable for electoral malpractices should be banned from contesting for a specified period of time not less than 10 years to deter electoral fraud and improve electoral integrity.

Exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms.
It is high time the courts in Uganda adjudicating on election petition matters considered beyond canceling results and ordering for a rerun, declare petitioners as rightfully elected leaders in compelling situations where winners fraudulently won elections. Whereas there are instances where courts have declared petitioners as the rightfully elected leaders, these precedents have been very few.

Any means of saving taxpayers’ money on election petitions and by-elections should be considered moving forward. After all, Ugandans are already burdened by the escalating indebtedness.

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