The Auditor General’s report for December 2019 is out, but with a damning indictment on Government of Uganda, over its persistent underfunding of the Electoral Commission and its activities in the build up to the 2021 general elections.
The electoral commission strategic plan (2015/16-2021/22), adopted a phased approach of funding electoral activities as a projects, with several different electoral process spread out in distinct financial years, from 2018/19 to 2020/21 as highlighted in the road map. The Auditor General observed that the financing of the roadmap to the 2021 general elections is behind schedule, with only Sh. 141bn having been released to the EC out of the required Sh 796.88bn in the past three financial years from 2018/19 to 2020/21. On the 16th of January 2020, while appearing before the parliament’s committee on legal and parliamentary affairs, the Commission’s secretary general, Mr. Sam Rwakoojo, hinted that unless the Commission is availed this financial year a whooping Sh 518.9bn, there is a likelihood that the country shall not have elections in 2021.
But whose role is it to finance the electoral commission?
Article 66, of the 1995 constitution as amended, provides for the expenses of the commission, inter alia, that parliament shall ensure that adequate resources and facilities are provided to the commission to perform its functions effectively and that the administrative expenses, shall be charged on the consolidated fund. Therefore, by law expenses of the commission are charged on the consolidate fund, which is managed by Government.
It is the mandate of Government to finance the electoral commission & its activities, through its financial year estimates of revenues and expenditure laid before parliament which are then passed into the National budget allocations to the Commission, usually in a phased manner over a period of four (4) financial years. (see the 2015/2016 General Elections Report by the Electoral Commission to Parliament. Chapter 4:3, Financing the General Elections.)
If I may hasten to add, that although development partners, like the UNDP, also fund electoral activities, for example it is reported that in the 2015/2016 General Election, development partners funded 0.062% of the activities, with Government of Uganda funding 99.38%, but still Government is the principal funder of the commission’s expenses as mandated by Law.
What are the implications on the 2021 General Elections?
The Electoral Commission Chairperson, Justice Byabakama is quoted by the media, while appearing before Parliament’s committee on Legal and parliamentary affairs, “The available funds can only take us up to the nomination of candidates for presidential and parliamentary elections period and after that, there would be no money for other activities such as printing of ballot papers,”.
The 2015/2016 general elections report by the Election Commission, submitted to parliament, highlights the phased funding of the general election as a project, developed in 2008, by the electoral commission developing a project proposal for the general elections. In 2010/2011, the same arrangement was made for the general elections 2015/2016, the same strategy has been adopted for the 2020/2021 general elections. The justification for the above phased funding & implementation of electoral activities as projects over a period of three (3) financial years leading up to General Elections, was to ease funding pressures on Government of Uganda and also to work within the ceilings provided for under the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF).
Therefore, inadequate funding of the phased implementation of electoral activities as projects in a given financial year means delays in implementing electoral road map and the set activities. Henceforth critical electoral activities planned as per the 2020-2021 general elections road map for the 2nd half of the current financial year could suffer a great deal of unprecedented disruption in delays and postponements temporarily or indefinitely, which will negatively impact the quality of our elections.
Take for instance among the electoral activities planned in the 2nd half of this financial year 2019/20, on the 19th of March to April 8th 2020, display of the National Voters Register at each polling station, April 21st to May 1st 2020, Retrieval of NVR Display Returns from the polling stations to EC HQs. On the 2nd of May 2020 to May 31st 2020, cleaning and processing the National Voters Register for Nominations, let’s assume the worst comes to reality and the above electoral activities are not conducted by the Electoral Commission. They have a significant impact on the integrity of the Elections, since the National Voters Register is an important tool for conducting acceptable free & fair elections, which is at the heart of an Election. We cannot also rule out delays in procurement of electoral materials and recruitment of the much need human resource such as sub-county and parish election supervisors.
Director- Legal Affairs.
Centre For Electoral Justice & Research.