KAMPALA. Government is more than Shs4 billion richer after the tax authority collected nomination fees from over 1,200 public office seekers ahead of the 2016 general election.
After collecting Shs160 million from the eight presidential candidates, Uganda Revenue Authority received an estimated Shs3.8 billion from at least 1,287 aspirants nominated to contest in the 2016 parliamentary race and unspecified sum from aspiring district chairpersons and councillors.
Daily Monitor estimates, based on an average of at least three runners per constituency, puts the number of parliamentary aspirants at 1,287. About 429 seats are expected in the 10th Parliament. However, EC is expected to release official figures this week.
While each of the eight presidential aspirants paid Shs20 million up from Shs8 million, each of the aspiring MPs paid Shs3m up from Shs200,000 paid to public coffers in the previous elections. Twelve NRM MPs mainly from Western Uganda and 11 district heads have since sailed through unchallenged.
Although EC spokesperson, Jotham Teremwa told Daily Monitor: “This is not EC money,” a senior official in the Auditor General’s Office explained that since nomination fees fall under the ambit of Non-Tax Revenue (NTR), it can still be requested by EC officials through Secretary to the Treasury in case of any unfunded emergencies ahead of the 2016 polls.
Last evening, Ministry of Finance Spokesperson Jim Mugunga said: “All the money URA collected from politicians aspiring for various positions will go to the Consolidated Fund and is part of the national pool of resources that is available to government for spending on service delivery and other programmes planned in the budget framework.”
There were last-minute efforts by concerned Ugandans to stop the increase of nomination fees to Shs3 million but the Constitutional Court upheld it on grounds that stopping the fees would be “a miscarriage of justice”, and would stop the whole democratic process which all Ugandans are going to participate in.
Some of the rookie politicians who had hoped for respite criticised the court decision as “a victory of the rich over the poor.” Those who talked to Daily Monitor said the court case, challenging the nomination fees, should continue even after the 2016 election.
“Shs3m is not reasonable, it should be at least Shs500,000,” Mr Ahmed Katerega, a journalist who wanted to represent Kyadondo South in the 10th Parliament said. “I know people who paid Shs2m for NRM party primaries and could not afford the Shs3m. I also know hundreds of contestants who had expected the NRM party to help them raise Shs3m for nomination but were disappointed at the eleventh hour.”
Counsel for the petitioners, Iddi Ouma and Paul Ssembajjwe, had argued that the new fee was unconstitutional and discriminatory since only the rich would vie for political positions yet all Ugandans must be involved in the political process.
In the draft Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2015 (now an Act of Parliament), Attorney General Fred Ruhindi had proposed to increase nomination fees from Shs200,000 to Shs1 million. When the Bill went to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee, it was argued that the fee was fixed in 2005 yet the economy has gone through so many changes.
When the matter came to the floor of Parliament on September 30, some MPs opposed the hiking of the fees.
The leader of Opposition in Parliament, Mr Wafula Oguttu said: “We were sent here to make laws that serve Ugandans. We were not sent here to make laws for ourselves. We should not appear to the public that we are beginning our campaigns in this House by making a law that disaantages those who are going to stand against us we shouldn’t appear like that to the public at all.”
However, other MPs including Odonga Otto and Anifa Kawooya supported the increment and even proposed a higher figure but the House later settled on Shs3m as proposed by the Legal Committee.
“I am proposing Shs10 million,” Mr Otto had said. “This is majorly for two reasons: One, I would recommend that the Shs10 million be refundable at the end of the elections… We are going to have a situation where we will have 70 people on one ballot paper and we will have to tell our people that I am on page 6, No. 28.”
When contacted, Mr Crispy Kaheru, the coordinator of Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (Ccedu) said some of the youth who wanted to run for MP positions were barred because of the high costs of nominations. “Beyond deeply monetising elections, the new law is against those who are unable to raise the Shs3m. This has continued to constrict the political space. And has created a feeling that politics is exclusively for the wealthy,” Mr Kaheru said.