Uganda's Yoweri accused of spending gov't funds on election

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been accused of spending on government patronage for his election campaign

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A woman gets off a truck with pictures of National Resistance Movement (NRM) party candidate Yoweri Museveni in Masindi town on January 23, 2016 ahead of the February 18 presidential election

Critics accused Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni of spending freely on government patronage in a campaign for the Feb. 18 presidential vote to extend his three decades in office as teachers go unpaid and clinics run out of drugs.

Museveni awarded city status to the town of Mbarara at an election rally this month, which is a minor distinction, but one that promises more public sector jobs for local voters.

According to the critics, this was another example of Museveni’s wasteful spending.

"For 30 years, it has been the same face, the same system, the economy in the hands of a few people," said 53-year-old Steven, who did not want to give his full name.

"He has the state machinery buying the election," he added.

Museveni’s government denies the accusations of squandering state money while campaigning for the presidential vote.

Museveni has brought a measure of peace and economic stability since he came into power in 1986 after winning a protracted war. Since then, his achievements pleased Western allies, who support Uganda by sending peacekeeping troops to hotspots like Somalia.

However, as Museveni seeks a fifth term, Western allies frustrated by his lengthy grip on power are calling more loudly for him and other entrenched African leaders, including Paul Kagame in neighbouring Rwanda, to abandon office so a tradition of peaceful transition of power can be achieved.

Museveni’s opponents at home are also complaining that the rebel-turned-statesman treats the treasury as his personal fiefdom in a nation that remains among the poorest in Africa.

Candidate Amama Mbabazi, a former ally who was sacked from his position of prime minister last year, said that Museveni "simply believes that anyone has a price, and he is purchasing people as if they are some chattel in some market."

Uganda's presidential candidates take part in a presidential debate in Uganda's capital Kampala on January 15, 2016, ahead of the Feb. 18 presidential election (Reuters)

Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye, a longtime opponent who has lost three previous elections, command big crowds and draw cheers as they criticise spending of Museveni.

Government spokesman Shaban Bantariza said the accusations that Museveni’s party was using taxpayers’ money on the campaign was “purely speculative." He added that a costly bureaucracy was the “price of democracy."

However, in the budget for 2015/16, the year that covers the election, government spending rose by 71 percent, helping to push the Ugandan shilling to all-time lows.

"His entire governance is based on a system of patronage," said Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala lawyer, in comments echoed by other observers.

"The line is so blurred that you often can't tell which is the state and which is the ruling party. Museveni is the state and the state is Museveni in Uganda," he added.

The Ugandan government ran out of antiretroviral HIV drugs in September and activists accused it of spending funds on its election campaign. Officials denied the accusations and claimed a shortage of foreign currency. Additionally, teachers from several regions complained last year that they had not been paid in months.

The scale of election spending is hard to establish. Museveni’s party, the National Resistance Movement, has not released financial reports. Portions of the government budget are not publicly allocated, as parts of the bill for security are secret.

The president’s campaign travel and accommodation costs are covered by the State House but it does not give information about how much it spends.

After the election in 2011, the European Union’s observer mission said "the distribution of money and gifts by candidates, especially from the ruling party" was "inconsistent with democratic principles."

TRTWorld and agencies