The announcement by Hon. David Bahati that the budget for the next election is hovering around UGX 700Bn (USD 190M) plus the further shocking revelation by the spokesperson of the Electoral Commission that they requested for more than UGX 1 Trillion (USD 270M) for the same purpose has left many of us agape.
Justifications are being made about the rising costs to handle the election as well as the increased electoral areas like districts and constituencies. However, all this is being said with an analog mindset.
The Ugandan media has made the public get accustomed to hearing figures in Billions of Shillings being thrown around and is now preparing us for Trillions. This trend favours the corrupt officials who now have an opportunity to increase their corruption margins on government undertakings. It is very likely that nearly 40% of what the Electoral Commission budgets for elections fizzles away in unclear circumstances, serving the interests of the unknown.
As concerned citizens, we should not just blindly accept what is being proposed for expenditure. One wonders why the relevant officials cannot sit down and come up with ways of lowering the cost of our elections especially now that we are even celebrating twenty years of the existence of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). The UCC proudly boasts of having facilitated the spread of broadband and telephony services all over the country.
From a technology mindset, Uganda is capable of continuously lowering its spend on elections if only we were willing to think through our processes, challenges as well as resources.
What are some of the key areas of spending under the current modus operandi of the Electoral Commission during elections?
Printing of Ballot Papers (Done from outside the country)
Distribution of polling material
Facilitation of Election Polling Officials
Printing of requisite paperwork for the Polling officials like the Voters’ Register
Registration of Candidates
As a country, we have a National Identity database in place which can be relied upon for electoral matters. It is the single most effective source of citizen verification. This alone will erase the need for having a voter’s register printed out for each polling station. Money saved.
Electronic gadgets that are not only portable but also easy to deploy can be procured for verification of voters at the polling stations or even the registration of candidates. This will eliminate the need for an extra polling agent at a station whose role is to look up the voter’s name, verify with the ID and then tick the name. A polling station would only need one agent to man it.
The same electronic gadgets should be able to display the candidates to be voted for and by a mere touch of the screen, the respectively chosen candidate gets a vote. Through data streaming, the information instantly gets relayed to the control center. This eliminates the need for printing expensive ballot papers and distributing them under high security.
Finally, there s a need for a back end software system that should be able to integrate all these activities and deliver results with the requisite levels of integrity. This software can be developed by a team of locals and open sourced for others to learn from through sharing.
One may ask, how do we get the good local software developers?
Easy!!! Put up a competition for teams to come up with concepts on software design aimed at meeting the specified needs of the Electoral Commission (EC). The winner gets the opportunity to work with the EC to meet their expectations.
This way, we have the potential to cut down our planned expenditure of UGX 700 Billion by at least 50%. We still have two years to go. Can we start now?
James Wire is a Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda
Follow @wirejames on Twitter.
Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com