Electoral Commission Has Always Been Independent, Says Kiggundu

Since Dr Badru Kiggundu was appointed chairman of the Electoral Commission on November 18, 2002, he has presided over two general elections (2006 and 2011).

The opposition protested the results of both elections, saying they were neither free nor fair but Kiggundu maintains that they did a good job. As the 69-year-old Kiggundu prepares for yet another general election in 2016, he speaks to Deo Walusimbi about the wide range of recent election-related developments: –

How have you found this office?

I have had big offices before but this is a much bigger and intriguing office than the ones I used to have because of the variables. We are dealing with people with political thinking which is not easily formulated on a one-two formula so, it’s a changing environment which is not predictable.

With that kind of character, it’s an intriguing office and quite challenging, but it has to be manned by someone who happens to be me this time round. So, I can’t run away from it and I am proud of the opportunity to serve my country in this part of my life and I hope by the time I leave, we shall have set a foundation for others to come.

How would you describe the Kiggundu-led Electoral Commission?

It’s an accomplishing electoral commission, with challenges of course. But I think we have accomplished a lot in the management of the elections, in the growth of democracy in this country, and we have made a number of improvements in the way things are done.

I think we have contributed in the electoral training and I am proud of the people I was appointed with because we have been working as a team and we shall continue doing so because there is nothing better than solving problems by consensus with no substantial cracks.

What are those outstanding challenges you have hinted at?

Inadequate resources… the changes in the laws, which are unpredictable sometimes and take longer than we would wish, hinder us to make [the electoral] roadmap early.

The [other challenge is the] commercialisation of elections, which is becoming untenable because everyone is talking about too much money.

Are there challenges you inherited when you assumed this office?

Oh yes one of those was the explosive violence that had been witnessed in the 2001 elections. As soon as I came in, I was given the write-up reports and the questions I was asked were, ‘how are you going to redress the violent nature of elections?’

While not completely cured, we have attempted not single-handedly, but multi-sectorally. The issue of the [voters’] register was also a problem we inherited because the register was just computer-typed. Some registers were hand-written, but we have developed to a point where I think in the 2016 [elections], we will have a superb register.

That is why we have been part and parcel of the national security information project to make sure that every Ugandan registers for purposes of acquiring a national identity card and, ultimately, that data will be very helpful in generating a national register for voting which is much cleaner and scientifically editable.

The opposition is worried that you are going to use the data from the national ID project to further the vote rigging…

Some people have not given themselves time to understand [the national ID project]. As a country, we have been yearning for identifying Ugandans for quite some time. If you go to developed countries, they have a central data base. If they need a register for voting, they just press a button and get all the voters in their country that is what we are intending to achieve.

Once we get that into our format, we shall display it in your areas for you to come and witness. [Otherwise], this is a [must-have] development which I would appeal to all Ugandans to cherish because it has been overdue.

We are actually an island in the East African region because all our neighbours have got national IDs.

The wider public, particularly the opposition, believe that you are an NRM-leaning Electoral Commission. Have you ever stolen an election for Museveni?

First of all, I have my sympathies to those ones who think that way. Number two, in any of the other positions like a chief justice, or whatever other institutions, the heads are nominated [by the president] just like the chairperson of the electoral commission.

Somebody placed in a position of authority is given a chance to administer his duties, but who is free from that blemish? You heard what lawyers were throwing at the chief justice [Benjamin] Odoki.

So, for me, they are free to say what they want, but all I know is that I am doing my task, following the laws, because when I came here, I was given a basket of laws I was given the Electoral Commission Act, the Constitution, Referendum Act, etc. That is what I follow so, judge me on whether I have followed those laws. If I haven’t, then why should I be here?

Have you ever stolen an election for Museveni?

Why should I steal? It is you the voters who do the justice when I bring ballot boxes to your area and you vote as you wish. I have never forced anybody to vote otherwise.

When it comes to counting, the witnesses are there. Uganda is the only nation where open counting of votes was mothered and I am proud about it because we were the first nation to pour our ballots out of the boxes to the table and counting goes on in broad daylight. Some nations are just picking [the practice] from us.

Has anyone in government ever pressured you to turn a result in the opposition’s or NRM’s favour during your tenure?

No one would succeed because I am very firm on the law. You ask me to do something, and then I ask you, ‘what does the law order me to do?’ That is all.

Have you ever been approached?

I think Ugandans sometimes forget easily because if you look back, how would we have allowed Besigye to stand in 2005 when he was on remand in Luzira?

We read the laws and found that there was no iota which would oblige us not to nominate him [even after] the government had made a statement in public. We would have declared him null if we were in the interest of the state, but I think Ugandans should learn not to forget.

But renegade General [David] Sejusa recently said the state usurped your role as the Electoral Commission to create a parallel electoral commission at Basima house to steal the 2006 election…

My brother Sejusa lives in a dream world. That has never happened and it will never happen. We have control over how results are transmitted without going through any other organ.

For him, he is fighting for his political [ambitions], wherever he wants to reach, but I have no respect for that claim and I do not admit [having allowed the state to usurp the EC’s role].

During the Masaka and Luweero by-elections, President Museveni accused the opposition of stealing elections in connivance with the electoral commission…

It’s not true because I don’t think I have to go into coalitions – private or otherwise – with anybody. We declare results as they came out.

What do you make of the latest outburst by the Amuru NRM chairperson that the same incident happened again?

I was in Amuru. Let him substantiate his claim. Let him come forward, put up his case in court. We shall meet in court.

What can you do to win the trust of the opposition? And don’t you think that their misgivings about the EC merit some credence?

I think the opposition is like the day and night it will become day to them when they win, and it becomes night to them when they lose. But a good number of them have come forward to say, ‘Kiggundu, we appreciate [your work]. We are crucifying you for nothing,’ although some of them may not want to say it publicly for fear of their organisations.

What do you make of the opposition’s electoral reform proposals, especially those that call for the establishment of an independent electoral commission?

As the electoral commission, we have always [been the] vanguard in proposals for amendments and they are two-years-old. So, we are ahead of literally everybody in thinking of what should be the improvements in the laws.

But none of our proposals establishes the independent electoral commission because adding the word independent [is not enough] you have to define what the value addition is by just adding independent, not merely being a copy-cat because our neighbour Kenya had the independent electoral commission.

It’s not the word independent that makes people in the institution to demonstrate their independence. We have demonstrated our independence, because we understand what the law says under Article 62, and we shall continue to do so. So, if the lawmakers agree to add the word independent, I am not crazy about it.

Do you feel frustrated by government’s delay in tabling the constitutional amendment which would subsequently pave way for 2016 elections?

I don’t want to say I am frustrated because the government has a lot of other responsibilities to accomplish. We shall oblige to provisions when they come on board. If it requires working 24 hours, we are used to it….

We hoped that the amendments in the Constitution would be passed by February this year, [but] they have not been passed. We hope that they will be passed before February next year expires because it is critical to have the laws set in aance so that all other activities which are law-based can be developed and have much time to be disseminated in the interest of the people.

The opposition says if there are no reforms, they could boycott the 2016 elections. What are you doing to push government to pass these reforms and in time?

That is not my jurisdiction, but over the last cycles of general elections, I have heard of the opposition’s intent to boycott, but ultimately, that threat collapses when the programme for nominations and so forth have been announced. But it’s up to them. I don’t want to enter that area because they have their sentiments. Maybe they want to please their masters who finance them so, they are free but I am sure not all of them can oblige to that.

Do you feel being targeted as an individual?

I don’t feel so because they are attacking the position of the chairperson, not necessarily Kiggundu. Although there are those who may dislike Kiggundu, within a few years [by November 17 2016], I will have accomplished my term and leave it to somebody who comes next. I don’t know how heshe looks like.

Would you like the appointing authority to renew your term?

I don’t look forward to a renewal. I will have served my two constitutional terms and, therefore, it would be nice for someone else to come and also be called names.

Do you have any regrets?

I don’t think so because I am a very optimistic person and I believe that the journey is not like the water you drink out of a glass it must have hiccups here and there which you can sit back and reflect on, but [you have to] make sure that the task is accomplished. So, I have no regrets. I have been scorned and called so many names, but I think that is part of living.

The people who bash me don’t understand the gravity of being in this chair, the parameters we have to grapple with. Once in a while people come to visit me and when I explain to them, they turn around and say ‘we are blaming you for no reason.’

It is misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the facts that causes it sometimes, but that does not derail me because we don’t have to be bed mates to work for this country.

Source : The Observer

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