Leadership Only for the Rich?

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Yesterday we woke up to the news that our MPs had been paid 5 million shillings (approximately $1,800) as ‘disturbance allowance’ for being called from recess to discuss, debate and pass two electoral bills. These were the Presidential Elections Amendment Bill and the Parliamentary Elections Amendment Bill, both of 2015. Never mind that for the last three years or so, various sections of civil and political society have been demanding major reforms to our electoral laws. Parliament could have or should have pressed the Executive much more, to ensure that the laws were presented in good time.

In the recent laws passed, Parliament scraped the facilitation to presidential aspirants, given to them to part-finance their campaigns. They raised the nomination fees for presidential aspirants from 8 million to 20 million shillings and for parliamentary aspirants from 200,000 to 3 million shillings.

That the sitting MPs would raise the nomination fees to 3 million shillings despite the fact that they know, at least from a recent poll, that only 9% of Ugandans earn between 3 to 9 million shillings strikes me as an action in bad taste. The increase in the nomination fees means that the MPs have effectively cut off a large portion of Ugandans from ever aspiring to or accessing leadership at Parliament level. How do they do this, knowing that the majority of Ugandans earn between 100 to 500 thousand shillings? Is that to say that Parliamentary representation has become an elite business? How do MPs pass such a law knowing that Government has repeatedly refused to raise the wages of teachers and doctors in Uganda? How do they pass such a law knowing that Government has refused to pass a minimum wage? Is that to say we are locking out a certain section of Ugandans from accessing leadership? Are we saying that leadership is now only for the rich?

One could say that by raising nomination fees, MPs intend to ensure that only ‘serious’ people aspire to politics, or that they intend to ensure that people do not use political leadership to enrich themselves. At the same time though, we must watch that we do not pass discriminatory laws especially with regard to access to leadership.

To add insult to injury, right after passing the bill raising nomination fees the MPs received a facilitation of 5 million, meaning they can take off 3 million of that to secure their own nomination fees. It is the same way the last Parliament passed a law requiring civil servants who want to run for political office, to resign from office (not take leave) 90 days before they get nominated. By this action, the MPs effectively made the rules for running for office only advantageous for themselves.

I think somewhere in there lies a possible constitutional challenge to their action. I think the MPs are passing blatantly discriminatory laws by ring fencing certain elective positions for their benefit. The right to free and fair elections should also include a right to fair rules regarding nomination fees. I think the fees should be set in a fair way, taking into consideration the average wages earned by a majority of Ugandans. We cannot make leadership only accessible by the upper echelons of society because then we miss out on the right leaders when we only go for leaders that have the right money.

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