Struggle for electoral reforms in Uganda will take a long time

The discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Uganda almost 20 years ago, before the discovery in Ghana – now already an oil producer and exporter – was at a time when oil prices were high.

Now world oil prices are falling and may continue falling for some time, because, among other things, the domestic supply in the USA is rising thus reducing their demand for imported oil.

We are lucky the oil demand by China and India is still rising, otherwise the market price of oil may collapse to below the break-even point for some oil exporters. Thus our high expectations of oil wealth may have to be modified.

However, in this scenario, government is busy trying to pass laws that would reduce the power of Parliament over the budget in preparation for the full control over oil revenues (bonanza) by the Executive. While the focus should be on getting the oil from the ground to the market, there is misplaced focus on the control of the revenues that are still years away.

The comptroller powers of the Auditor General (AG) were taken away many years ago so that when the budget is passed by Parliament, the AG issues one warrant for the whole amount instead of issuing a warrant for every request for withdrawal of funds from the Consolidated Funds.

This is why the Central Bank cannot refuse withdrawal of funds by the Treasury because of the purpose to which the money will be put as this is not within their power to control.

This is the role of the Comptroller, a role that used to be played by the Auditor General on behalf of Parliament, which is no longer vested in any office. That is why the title of the AG used to be Comptroller and Auditor General and is still so in some of our neighbours.
Thus government, which already has unrestrained access to the funds in the Consolidated Fund, is seeking to remove the limited powers of Parliament over the budget granted by the Budget Act. Government will most likely have its way because these are matters beyond the grasp of most people that would be in a position to prevent it. Yet the power to control the budget is actually where the real power of Parliament lies. Once it is lost, the Parliament is not just a rubber stamp but just an expensive decoration.

At last the National Consultation Conference (November 23 to 25) is over after six months countrywide preparations involving regional and sub-regional workshops or consultations. The process output is a Compact on free and fair elections.

During the countrywide consultations, attendance was inclusive of NRM members and leaders but unfortunately at the final event, the PresidentNRM chairman who was expected to open it and the SpeakerNRM vice chair who was to receive the Compact and close the event did not turn up.
Thus, the participation of the NRM became minimal, indicating that this electoral reform initiative does not have the approval of the ruling party. This could mean their (NRM) expected reform proposals will be cosmetic. Therefore, the struggle for electoral reforms is going to be a long one and may define the content of the current politics of the country.

There have been earlier initiatives by the Inter-Party Cooperation, which presented a set of electoral reform proposals and Bills to the then Speaker Edward Ssekandi, now Vice President. Nothing came out of them. Proposals by the Inter-Party Organisation for Dialogue before the 2011 elections suffered the same fate.

In order that the current proposals do not suffer the same fate, there is need for an organisation, separate from the conveners, that can follow up the implementation of Compact proposals.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP. a_ruzindana@yahoo.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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