KAMPALA – The United States (US) Mission in Uganda has on Wednesday, warned the Electoral Commission against the move to ban cameras and video recordings at polling stations ahead of the 2021 general elections saying the move will go against the spirit of free and fair elections.
The US Mission Uganda’s position on the controversial matter was communicated on the Mission’s official twitter handle, with the institution arguing that the ban of cameras and phones would prevent media from providing effective election coverage.
“We encourage Parliament to uphold international best practices & allow use of cameras & phones in polling stations on election day. The proposed ban by EC would prevent media from providing effective election coverage. Ugandans deserve free, fair & transparent electoral process,” read US statement.
The US Government’s statement was in response to a proposal made by Justice Simon Byabakama, Chairperson Electoral Commission while appearing before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee and called for the banning of cameras at polling stations saying the move is aimed at guarding secrecy of ballots cast by voters.
Byabakama was quoted saying, “We propose that we should ban or exclude cameras from polling stations for purposes of preserving the sanctity and secrecy of one’s ballot. If you are going to allow cameras, then where is the secrecy of the ballot?”
He made the remarks in reaction to the five bills tabled by Attorney General, William Byaruhanga in response to recommendations made by the Supreme Court in the presidential election petition filed by former Premier, Amama Mbabazi, Byaruhanga tabled a number of bill geared towards making electoral reforms including; The Presidential Elections (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Electoral Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2019, the Political Parties and Organisation (Amendment) Bill, 2019, Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Bill and the Local Government (Amendment) Bill, 2019.
Byabakama went ahead to propose penalties for any individual found to have contravened this provision recommending for a fine of UGX800,000 or serve a jail term of two years or carry both punishments.
Byabakama’s proposal raised a number of eyebrows first within the Committee and later in public, with Abdu Katuntu wondering if rumours that the executive had tabled ‘fake’ electoral reforms on its first day and later stealthy recalling them were true, given the fact that the same proposal was said to be in the earlier bills.
Asked to comment about the proposal on Wednesday, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) Secretary-General, Nandala Mafabi questioned the motive behind the proposal saying it should be the Electoral Commission’s to have free and fair elections more than anybody else.
Nandala said, “If we are improving cameras, I don’t know why the Electoral Commission doesn’t want cameras. I think that means there is something they want to do which is criminal. If it is (EC) is a transparent organisation, it should be one of those advocating for transparency. But if they say they don’t want cameras, then that habit of theirs which is going on must stop. We propose that cameras must not be prohibited.”
FDC’s position was reechoed by NRM Secretary General Justine Kasule Lumumba opposed EC’s proposal arguing that the presence of cameras would be critical at ensuring transparency in Uganda’s elections.