Friday, September 19, 2008



18th September, 2008
New Vision
Kampala, Uganda
By Salaamu Musumba

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) agrees with the principle that political parties should be funded from public resources. What we found unacceptable in the Political Parties and Organisations (Amendment) Bill is the use of many words interchangeably. These words are government resources, public funds and State funds. Those words mean different things. The right word is public resources because the Government does not have any resources of its own.

Not every registered party should get public funds. Any party which gets at least 1% of the votes in a general election should be entitled to public funds. A party which does not get at least 1% of the votes should not be given public funds because it lacks the mandate of the people to do so. We are blocking briefcase parties from accessing public funds. Parties that are registered must justify their existence. We do not want to take away money from schools and hospitals for parties that will not even field a candidate.

The funds to be given to parties should be divided in four parts as follows:

- The first tranche (portion of a large sum) should be shared equally by all parties which have a member in Parliament. The NRM has more MPs than FDC but it does not have a country bigger than the FDC. We cover the same breadth and length to canvass for support.

- The second quota should be shared on the basis of the proportion obtained in presidential elections.

- The third quota should be shared according to the parliamentary election results.

- The final quota should be shared according to the Local Council election results.

The total of the money is then added up to be given to the respective parties.

In the four-part formula, if you get sh1b, you break it down into four quotas. The first quota is shared equally among parties that have passed the 1% threshold regardless of whether they have MPs or not.

The NRM wants to use the numerical strength in Parliament to get more money than other parties but that is not a seller. We should draw lessons from South Africa and Sweden. To qualify for public funds, a party must have complied with all the legal, administrative and financial regulations under the Political Parties and Other Organisations Act. This includes providing accountability and timely returns to the Electoral Commission. The NRM is guilty because they have not complied with this requirement of the law. It is only the FDC which has followed the law two years running.

The other principle we want to uphold is that every vote should count. The consolidated vote of the parliamentary candidates should be the basis for a party’s share of public funds and not the number of MPs. We want the consolidated total of the parliamentary votes per party. If I am not in Parliament, my party should still benefit from the votes I got because the people who voted for me matter. Their votes should be used in establishing the strength of the party. For instance, in Kotido people become MPs with 1,000 votes. In my constituency, those would be 20 MPs. If we add up the vote total, we shall be sure that every vote matters. Everyone’s right to vote should be the basis in assessing funding of parties. Otherwise, why do people go to vote if their votes do not matter?

The Bill should not have come as an amendment to the Political Parties and Other Organisations Act. We should set up another law for funding parties. It is a new area in the history of Uganda.

We also want public funds to parties to be on a vote of account, which is ‘ring fenced’ so that nobody touches it. We should set dates when the four trances (portions) come in and there should be sanctions if the Government does not do so.

Running a part efficiently is expensive; it requires more than what we can mobilise locally because of the poverty levels. Our big asset base is the membership and the supporter base but our people cannot even raise sh1,000 for a card. We cannot raise funds from the business people because they fear to be hounded by the Government. This becomes an impediment.

Donors are limited by law on how much we can access from them. The Act limit is $230,000 (sh500m) from one donor source. That cannot run a party through a year. You need more to run efficiently. So we have had to cut back on our activities because we cannot afford them.

If you compare us with the NRM, the deputy secretary, his deputy and the chief whip thrive on public funds. It is illegal. But because there is no political sanity, they get away with it. It is a design to defraud the nation. A minister should be do work for the State and not use state resources for party work. The management of our parties requires a renaissance.

The NRM have to separate the State from the party. For example, India’s parties lose power but the government keeps running. It is an example of a stable democracy. Probably party funding will help to draw the distinction between the two.

The law should state what that money can do and it cannot do. Maybe it should be used to:

- Maintain a network of functional offices at regional or sub-county level.

- For administration and stipends. The Presidential Elections Act should be amended to remove funding for presidential candidates. The funding should go to parties.

We need a special commission to monitor the funds for the political parties. South Africa has such a commission. The Electoral Commission is not competent; they have failed to run impeccable elections and should not oversee these funds.

The funds should be wired to the bank accounts of parties directly and could be audited in every quota by the Auditor General. A party should not be allowed to access the next portion until it has accounted for the previous one.

The basic principles of funding political parties we are proposing are; the public mandate which is determined by the threshold of 1%, every vote must count to determine the proportionality of funds, dividing the money in a four part formula and the issue of accountability of the funds.

The writer is the FDC vice-president

As told to John Odyek