AS Uganda makes further progress in the democratisation of the country, it is critical that the issue of political party funding is discussed and appreciated scientifically.
Funding politics has benefits and costs. These should be very well understood to provide a basis for decision-making.
Political financing has vital effects on the health of democracy. Competitive elections require considerable sums of money.
Candidates and political parties need money to print election materials and organise meetings, among other things.
The current debate about the NRM funding its supporters in Parliament for mobilisation provides the attention required to get people to focus on this subject.
Contrasting methods of regulating and subsidising of election campaign and party organisations are to be found. There is no consensus either among political scientists or among politicians about what constitutes best practice. No single set of laws and no single method of subsidy is likely to suit every nation.
Domestic funding of politics
In this country during 1960s and the 1980 elections and political contest, every party and individuals raised their own electoral resources without any significant state help.
In the Movement political system, there has been more equitable consideration for electoral funding. Presidential candidates in both the 1996 and 2001 elections were each given, out of state funding, the following facilities:
The issue of funding politics is now topical worldwide.
In the UK, the government gives regular subventions to political parties. The parties, however, also raise their own resources from members and from the wider private sector.
In both USA and UK, financing of the political parties remains a dilemma. There are questions of patronage, access to contract awards and undue influence to policy generation. There are now Acts of parliaments to regulate registration and funding of political parties in many democracies in the west.
In the case of developing countries, there are concerns that developed countries and big multinational companies could subvert states through political party funding.
There are both formal and informal mechanisms used by developed countries in Europe and America to assist funding development of parties in poor developing countries.
Last year, I attended the Uganda North American Association Convention in Boston. During the meetings, I met a three-man delegation headed by Dr Richard Otto, the president of the USA DP Chapter. Among other things, he told me he worked to raise funds for the DP within the USA.
The International Republican Institute (IRI), a USA organisation has now set up a base in Uganda. The representative in Uganda has informed me that approximately US $1m will be available to assist in the democratisation process in Uganda. IRI has so far tried to play fair to all political forces in the country. I have told them it is critically important they do not and are not perceived to influence the politics of Uganda against the aspirations of Ugandans.
These are only two illustrations of how the American society plays a role in financing politics in developing countries.
In respect to the UK, I will give the example of the funding mechanism using the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). WFD is an independent public institution funded by the UK Government.
According to its mission statement, it works to achieve sustainable political change in emerging democracies. Its programmes are centred on its capacity to undertake party development work through the Westminster political parties. Priority in its activities is given to Eastern European and African countries.
Half the work of WFD is delivered through the Westminster parties. UK political parties work directly with their partners around the world using this money. For example, the Labour Party usually partners with labour/socialist or leftist parties in other countries.
Other international organisations directly involved in politics in the country include but are not limited to:
However, it should be noted that foreign funding of elections could be associated with serious uncertainties. These intensify during a second or subsequent election. The international tap begins to flow less generously.
Parties, which have become dependent upon expectations of foreign cash have failed to prepare for the time when this source dries up.
The costs that must be guarded against in funding of politics include:
Legal regulation consists of a range of activities and below are some examples:
Experience shows that without local experts in each country, including investigative journalists and electoral administrators as well as scholars, the problem of political financing are likely to be ignored or to be misunderstood.
Solutions to difficulties relating to money in politics often require a combination of actions concerning press freedom, money laundering and other anti-corruption measures as well as reforms related narrowly to campaign and party funds. Equally, anti-corruption measures must include political funding controls and subsidies.
The cases of Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania show some practices on the ground.
Tanzania's law in part provides that every political party, which has been fully registered, shall:
From foreign organisations stationed within the United Republic; or
From any person resident in the United Republic who is not a citizen of the United Republic.
In respect to public funding the law provides that the Government may grant to parties up to no more than 2 per cent of the annual recurrent budget, less the amount payable in defraying the national debt.
The formula for sharing the government grant is also provided in the Law. The main elements of this provision are:
This issue of political party funding was also a subject of discussion in the Government consultations with the political forces early this year.
The recommendations on this matter were as follows:
These sources are:
The Political Parties and Organisation Act has made a good start in providing for control of funding of politics. This initiative should be consolidated. Those political parties and organisations which are refusing or delaying to register should be viewed with suspicion.
I believe one reason they are dodging the law is fear of accountability as required by the law.
The Uganda People's Congress, the Democratic Party and other political parties have been raising and spending money but to whom are they accounting?
While it is legitimate to ask the NRM to account, we should, at the same time, not ignore the other political players and the apparently uncontrolled foreign funding of politics in the country. We now have the opportunity to bring everyone under the control of the law.
The Speaker of Parliament, Edward Sekandi has, in consultation with us and with the assistance of the British High Commission, set up a broad-based committee within Parliament to further examine this question of political party funding. Ben Wacha heads the committee.
It is expected the committee will assist the country to refine the current provisions in the country in respect to funding politics.
I wish to encourage members of the public to take advantage and give their views on this very critical matter. There is also the vibrant and though sometimes anarchic Ugandan press to take advantage of.
The writer is the National Political Commissar