By Moses Walubiri
Government has moved to amend the Local Government Act, 2012 in order to scale down the cost of conducting Local Council elections throughout the country.
The raft of amendments are tailored to dropping dispensable provisions in the current Act, which the Electoral Commission (EC) contends are the major cause of the prohibitive cost of conducting LC elections.
Justifying the government move before the Public Service and Local Government committee of parliament yesterday, Local Government minister, Adolf Mwesige noted: "Our delay to hold these elections has left a huge administrative gap at the local level. The sooner we pass the requisite amendments the better."
Among the amendments proposed include phasing out transmitting an updated hard copy of the electoral register for every polling station to all the 38 registered political parties in the country.
Under laws governing LC elections, every village is a polling station. With 57,691 villages in the country, according to the Secretary EC, Sam Rwakojjo, sending parties with candidates in LC polls a soft copy of the voters' register will save sh250m.
Other amendments include dropping provisions which make it mandatory for the EC to publish election activities in newspapers and creation of electoral tribunals at each polling station.
In the proposed amendments, EC will only publish its activities in the gazette which will be distributed and displayed at parish level.
Also election tribunals at village level will be replaced with those at parish level, with membership limited to only five people, instead of the entire registered voters at each polling station as it is under the current legal dispensation.
Members of electoral tribunals under the current law are entitled to a token fee of sh5000. And with close to 15m registered voters, EC will need sh7.5b to operationalize electoral tribunals, unless the law is amended.
However, MPs Mabel Bakeine, Betty Namboze and Roland Mugume sparred with Mwesige and Rwakojjo over proposals to do away with photographic voters' registers for LC polls saying its recipe for "electoral fraud."
"This country is teeming with refugees and other foreigners. In the absence of a nation ID, how will you ensure that only Ugandans participate in LC polls?" Bakeine asked.
However, Rwakojjo pleaded with legislators to accept the amendment saying, "using a photographic voters' register for LC polls will be defeating the very essence of the proposed amendments."
The EC intends to carry out fresh text book registration in all the 57,691 villages in the country where voters will be registered according to their areas of residence instead of origin.
The EC hopes to save sh75b if the proposed amendments are passed by parliament following a report from the committee. The estimated cost of conducting LC polls without the proposed amendments is sh120b.
The country has not held LC polls since 2006 following a petition in the Constitutional Court by Rubaramira Ruranga in which, he successfully challenged the constitutionality of holding LC polls under a legal regime which was not in sync with a multiparty political dispensation.
With LCs playing administrative and judicial roles at the local levels, their continued absence has left a vacuum which government is keen to plug.
Government moves to reduce cost of LC polls