Commercialisation of Elections from the inside Out: Uganda’s First Money Trail Exposes Weakness in the Regulatory Framework for Campaign Financing

The highly contested 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections were concluded in February 2016.Prior to the elections, little was done by the Ugandan citizenry, policy makers, and Development Partners on Uganda’s weak regulatory framework for campaign financing.

However, the public domain was continuously awash with heavy debate on the high commercialization of elections processes, where money was reportedly used to influence the voting behavior and subsequently, election outcomes. The European Union observers’ report for the Presidential and Parliamentary elections 2011 revealed that money was indeed used to infl uence voters. In a survey conducted by Alliance for Campaign Finance Monitoring (ACFIM) on commercialization of politics, targeting members of the 10th Parliament, 90% of them agreed that the cost of competing for a Parliamentary seat had increased tenfold since 2001. This was further confi rmed by the level of indebtedness of the 9th parliament, an issue that was directly linked to campaign fi nancing. However, information on how much it cost to contest for Presidential as well as Parliamentary seats remained sketchy. Even the unprecedented campaign and Citizens Compact on Free and Fair Elections adopted in November 2014 did not target campaign financing as a potential electoral reform area.

In light of the above, and with support from the Democratic Governance Facility, ACFIM, working with a team of 65 locally recruited and trained research fellows, followed the campaign money trail in 74 constituencies in 16 districts. Prior to this,wide consultations were conducted in other regions including the Philippines, Latin America and the European Union, so as to learn from those who had conducted similar studies. ACFIM also worked with a network of 16 civil society partners on the study.In order to avoid sabotage of its efforts, ACFIM created an information database that was hosted out of country. Data obtained from the fi eld was verified before it was entered into web based databases for analysis. At the national level, a team of economists were engaged to track budget fl ows and utilisation in selected government ministries, departments and agencies during the campaign period. Whereas it was diffi cult to capture all the expenses incurred by political parties, and Presidential and Parliamentary candidates in the 74 constituencies, the team was able to capture minimum expenditures, which were quantified in irreducible minimum amounts below
which further reduction was not possible.The minimum campaign expenses were thereafter analysed on a monthly basis and issued as monthly reports.

Reports generated revealed that political parties and their flag bearers as well as the independent candidates in the 74 constituencies had altogether spent Uganda Shillings 77.2 billion by February 2016. It also revealed that that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) accounted for 76.6% of the total expenditure; followed by Independent Candidates: with 17.8%; Forum for Democratic Change party with 2.8%; Go Forward political group, 1.9%; Democratic Party, 0.4%; Uganda People’s Congress, 0.2%; and others, 0.4%. The report interrogated enforcement of the provisions in the Political Parties and Organisations Act (as amended) – 2005, relating the requirements by parties to submit annual financial returns and audited reports to the Electoral Commission (EC). It became evident that the parties were not in compliance with provisions and that the EC was reluctant to sanction them.

It also became evident that electoral laws lack critical provisions that oblige political parties participating in election campaigns to declare their sources of income and expenditure.It does not provide any limits to campaign spending, an aspect that has scared away talented and competent leaders who are financially disadvantaged from running for office.The ACFIM reports caught the attention of the international community. The News Week magazine, International Business Times, Canal France International, Agency France-Press, Deutschewelle, New Zimbabwe, News24 Nigeria and All Africa News all featured the findings of the report.Citizens, Development Partners, local and international media, as well as the academia enthusiastically received the report, which has also been quoted by both the Commonwealth and European Union observers.

For the first time in the history of multi-party elections in Uganda, an independent civil society group has provided credible estimates on the amount of money spent on campaigns by political parties. Reports produced from this effort have given prominence to issues of campaign financing in Uganda’s political discourse. Most importantly, the need for campaign financing reform has become apparent.