By Ofwono Opondo
Uganda is entering that time, the election campaign season when opposition groups and their allies in the civil society and Western so-called donor groups accuse the NRM, and President Yoweri Museveni of dipping hands into the public till to run elections campaigns. But knowing that no opposition group has independent, reliable and sufficient sources, we must ask them if their tree isn’t rotten as well.
They must demonstrate to Ugandans that the same level of transparency and open accountability they demand of the NRM must be applied to them too. NRM shouldn’t be scared or listen to its opponents who are trying to set the agenda usually driven by hate, malice and falsehoods. The opposition is already getting money and not offering adequate accountability when they are outside the state. One should shudder how they will behave if ever are given an opportunity to control public coffers.
For equity’s sake we must ask them who pays for their air tickets, accommodation, and other upkeep expenses abroad to where they often make expensive trips. In this forthcoming campaigns, NRM shouldn’t exchange roses with its opponents when they tell lies about NRM and its leaders, often without evidence.
Over the course of my career, I have witnessed the negative impact of money on politics and governance. There is increasing evidence that corruption and unregulated donations are undermining the integrity of our elections and politics generally. Money from organized crime has infiltrated politics to gain control over elected officials and public institutions. These threats to democratic politics partly help explain why many people are losing faith in politicians and democratic processes.
For example, a recent research shows that more than two-thirds of Americans trust government less because of the influence of big donors. The need to regulate uncontrolled, undisclosed and opaque political financing was identified by the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security as a major risk to election integrity in emerging and mature democracies alike.
The Global Commission argued that poor regulation of political financing diminishes political equality, provide opportunities for organized crime to purchase political influence, and undermine public confidence in elections. Indeed, a failure to regulate political finance now threatens democracy of its unique strengths. Citizens want political parties and governments to represent their views and be responsive to their needs and not be parasites on foreign organizations whose mission is to interfere and influence politics of sovereign countries.
However, all too often parties are disproportionately representative of the interests of the donors who finance them. If large corporations and rich individuals buy greater influence through large donations, then citizens will lose faith in, or be marginalized from, the political process.
Although funding of political processes has important roles in a functioning democracy, unregulated money means that politics is skewed and prone to abuse. The explosive growth in campaign expenditures fuels perception that wealth buys political offices and policies. In Uganda today, anti-government campaigns are on the rise but no one knows who funds these activities.
Different countries worldwide are enacting laws to restrict NGOs’ access to foreign funding because it’s through some NGO’s that interference in politics is being conducted. In Ethiopian legislation has been enacted barring foreign funded NGOs from working on sensitive issues like elections. As a result, many quack NGOs in Ethiopia today cannot be traced.
In Uganda, we have opposition politicians and groups that solicit money from foreign groups and openly boasting without any iota of shame how they are externally funded like when, an America Ms. Jeanette McCarthy, the new Mayor for Boston recently assured MP Robert Kyagulanyi of funding from the US. Others like Kizza Besigye has for years boasted of foreign support even from some neighbouring countries. Yes, this support can come but let them disclose sources, purpose, and amount so we can tell if they are free of negative ties.
In the US foreign funding and meddling is totally prohibited the reason Donald Trump has been facing trouble since his election in 2016 including the ongoing impeachment proceeding in Congress. In the US and UK even their own citizens who have lived outside for two or more years without returning home are prohibited from donating to candidates in national elections. In Australia, government has just set up an intelligence led committee to inquire into and recommend actions on foreign influence in internal politics and academic institutions.
Unfortunately, their actions are diabolical because they openly undermine other countries including through official diplomatic means by their ambassadors. Corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor organizations, federal government contractors, foreign nationals, contributions in the name of another, professional corporations, labor organizations, national banks, personal funds from a candidate employed by prohibited sources, Churches and other charitable organizations are prohibited or tightly controlled in the US.
Back here, some politicians think they should do anything even through notorious organizations pretending to do social work yet their real aim is to control or subvert our politics, leaders, institutions and policy agenda. In this election Ugandans must keep watch on the election rotten money tree.
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