Published by Patra K on

There is more to gain from public funding of political parties in Uganda

Public funding of political parties is increasingly being acknowledged in several states worldwide as an essential framework for nurturing political parties. Political Parties are one of the foundational blocks of multiparty democracy. Competitive elections require considerable sums of money. Candidates and political parties need money to print election materials and organize meetings, maintain political offices among other things. The debate of funding politics is a global one, including in the established western democracies like the USA and UK.

In Uganda, since the amendment of the Political Parties and Organizations Act (as amended) 2005 (PPOA) to incorporate public funding of political parties, with specific regard to section 14 (a) which provide for public financing of political parties represented in Parliament, in respect of elections on equal basis; there seems to be an ambiguity in the interpretation of these provisions that have caused contentious debates.

In a recent ACFIM webinar series titled: “PUBLIC FUNDING OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN UGANDA: Impact on the Democratisation Process, Dr. Daniel Walyemera, a political finance expert mentioned that political parties are a public good because of the key role they play in keeping in check government against its mandate which necessitates them to be publicly funded.

“Public funding of a political party is consequently very important simply because it is in these spaces that leaders are nurtured and a foundation for training the government in waiting. “In other words, political parties should be funded because they are the nursery beds for the imminent leaders of the country”, he added.

Honorable Alice Alaso, the Acting National Coordinator of the Alliance for National Transformation (ANT) party also in agreement with the need for funding political parties says that the advantage of funding political parties is that they can ably and meaningfully participate in active political processes. She adds that “the cost of entering the political space remains high for both individuals and political parties and this automatically locks out potential leaders in waiting and is even made worse without party financing”

The secret known is that the pressure on political parties to raise money increases the power of interest groups and individuals to influence party behavior in exchange for financial support. Ruling parties may also abuse their access to state resources, putting opposition parties at a disadvantage. This vulnerability may also expose political parties to soliciting money from illegitimate financial sources.

On the other hand, Frank Rusa, the Country Representative of the Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) argues that the key funders of political parties should be its members and their supporters, not public funding.

Whereas this is the ideal situation, in economies such as Uganda with high levels of poverty, ordinary citizens cannot be expected to contribute much to the political parties. Public funding of political parties is one assured means of having a functioning multi-party system without people having to give up their scarce resources.

Frank further emphasized that public funding should be looked at from the National Security perspective. He argues that political parties are the gatekeepers of our countries sovereignty and democracy. “Political parties should be looked at beyond the competition for power during the election period but as vehicles that can work together on cross-party issues that are aligned to National development objectives”, he adds.

In essence, when a country establishes strong political parties, they are an avenue for alternative policy articulation; nurturing leaders in waiting, leading issue-based dialogues and discussions on national issues. Whereas Uganda is yet to have a strong body of opposition political parties, their need for support is not one to debate about. They need strong legal, institutional and financial structures to complement the work of the ruling government to ensure sustainable interventions of national transformation.

The aspect of mindset change is also important. People’s experience of politics in developing countries owes more to informal traditions than formal rules. Citizens’ expectations are low but include receiving favors at elections and from their elected representative on their election. The failure of state service delivery reinforces these expectations. Indeed favor seeking may seem a rational response to their predicament. For instance; voters in Uganda have a culture of expecting money from political parties as opposed to giving money to political parties. This culture has left most political parties handicapped to rely on other sources to finance their activities.

For multi-party democracy to thrive and be entrenched in Uganda, it should be in the interest of government to prioritize public funding of political parties putting aside their fears for a strong opposition and consider the benefits of a functional democracy.

Watch it here in case you missed it.

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