Uganda: Confusion as two ministers differ over dates for LC elections

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On April 11, Justice minister Kahinda Otafiire told legislators belonging to the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee that elections for LC-I and LC-II, as well as for women councilors, will be held at the end of July.

Otafiire explained that in the 2017/2018 financial year, which kicks off on July 1, the government will provide funds through his ministry, which chaperones the Electoral Commission (EC), to hold the polls.

“Money has been [allocated in the budget] and the elections will take place between June and August; so, don’t panic.

Cabinet decided that we should first of all feed the people because hunger is an emergency,” he said.

“Now that it has started raining and when the population is able to sustain itself, we shall go for the elections. Hungry people cannot afford elections,” Otafiire added.

Last month, the minister of finance, Matia Kasaija revealed that government had postponed the LC elections to 2018.

Kasaija said the postponement stemmed from a cabinet resolution to divert Shs 15.9 billion earmarked for the polls to cater for the food crisis that had been brought on by the long drought spell since late last year.

MINISTERS DIFFER

When The Observer contacted Kasaija for clarification last week, the minister backtracked from his earlier position, saying the election will now be held in October 2017, not 2018 as he had earlier stated, or July as Otafiire told MPs.

“I am the minister of finance. Get it from me that the elections shall be held in October this year. The Shs 15 billion was used for food relief but we shall provide money for the elections this year,” he said by telephone.

Otafiire, however, countered in a separate follow-up interview with this newspaper that the elections must be held by July.

“I am the minister responsible for the elections and I have the final word. Believe me and read my lips,” he stated.

In parliament, Otafiire’s statement drew mixed reactions from some legislators, who blatantly accused government of sowing “confusion” over the polls.

Bufumbira South MP Sam Bitangaro expressed disappointment with government for giving conflicting positions, which sows confusion among the electorate.

“This matter of LC elections is very important and [yet] various government agencies and departments have pronounced themselves differently. You must harmonise,” he urged.

Veronica Isala Eragu (Kaberamaido Woman) wondered why the minister had not issued a statement to the electorate to enable them start preparations for the elections, if indeed they are going to be held in the next two to five months.

‘EC HAS FINAL SAY’
The EC spokesperson, Jotham Taremwa, threw a further spanner in the works, declaring in a telephone interview that although government has committed funds in the 2017/2018 budget for the polls, the final election dates will be determined by the Electoral Commission.

Early this year, Parliament’s Public Service and Local Government committee, in its report to parliament, recommended that the LC-I and LC-II elections are held not later than March 15 this year.

This deadline was, however, not adhered to, after government re-allocated money meant for the elections to the ministry of Disaster Preparedness to handle the food crisis.
Uganda last held LC-I and LC-II elections in 2001. New office bearers were not elected at the end of their five-year term in, after the Constitutional court rendered the polls illegal following a petition by the then FDC electoral commission chairperson, Maj (Rtd) Rubaramira Ruranga.

©Alleastafrica and The Obsever

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