n Tuesday morning, the five candidates for the Uganda Law Society (ULS) presidency went head-to- head in a policy debate, the first of its kind in the Society’s 64 year history. The debate organised by the Society’s Elections Committee (EC) was held at Mestil Hotel, Nsambya in Kampala and was moderated by Lawyer James Orimi.
With one last chance to make a pitch to the membership of the Society which will be going to the polls Saturday 12th, the candidates: Mr Rashid Ssemambo, Mr Bernard Oundo, Ms Pheona Nabaasa Wall, Mr Nelson Walusimbi and Ms Anne Karungi squared up on the three cardinal mandates of the society as provided for in the ULS Act;
⦁ Membership welfare
⦁ Assisting the Government in all matters affecting legislation and the administration and practice of law in Uganda
⦁ Protecting and assisting the public in all matters relating to the law
Here is how each one of the candidates, if given the mandate of President of Uganda Law Society, would do business.
Mr Rashid Ssemambo
A managing Partner at Kalenge, Ssemambo & Co. Advocates with over 15 years of experience in Legal practice, Ssemambo promises the Law Society membership a ” strong, visionary leadership at the helm that is alive to the realities of the Society.” His campaign is hinged on rekindling the interest of members in the interests of the Law Society.
” The greatest undermining factor is that members do not see any value in belonging to the society called Uganda Law Society. We need to have initiatives that resuscitate the sense of belonging to the Uganda Law Society” He says.
To this end, Mr Rashid Ssemambo on the members’ welfare front which he calls the ” alpha and omega” of the society’s problems proposes the creation of a ULS Social Security Fund in order to guarantee security to members in terms of crises such as illness and financial handicaps.
He decries the fact that whereas the Uganda Retirements Bureau boasts of about 2 million savers, none are through initiatives by the Uganda Law Society something he describes as “Ludicrous.”
The commercial law lecturer at the Law Development Centre proposes and advises lawyers towards specialization in order to secure opportunities and remain in business. ” You can’t hope to get insurance work if you don’t specialize in insurance.” He says.
Ssemambo cautions members of the law society against electing a reactionary leadership. A leadership that is out of touch with the society. One that is theoretical and doesn’t diagnose fundamental issues properly.
” We need to identify where problems are, offer pragmatic solutions – member sourced solutions. We need to identify the causes of the causes of the problems. If you are talking about young lawyers getting arrested, you need to understand why they are arrested. We must come up with policy and legislative measures that ensure lawyers’ sources of livelihood. We need to push parliament to legislate and ensure some legal work is reserved for practicing advocates ”
When it comes to assisting the government and the public in matters to do with respect and observance for/of the law, Mr Ssemambo believes in setting up management systems and institutions in order to apply ” broader strategies to see through the objectives of the Uganda Law Society.”
” The Law Society must be the beacon of sanity in our country. The ULS must represent everything that is right, legal and constitutional.” He says. “The Law Society must be interested in how Parliament legislates, enactment of laws, and how the government comes up with policy.”
He pledges to advocate public vetting of public officers especially of judicial officers. ” It is wrong to have a secretive way of appointing judicial officers. Whatever we ( the Law Society) are doing at the Judicial Service Commission is a shoddy job” Mr Ssemambo says.
Ms. Pheona Nabaasa Wall
Pheona Nabaasa Wall, the current head of the legal department at National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) and outgoing Vice President of the Uganda Law Society seeks to leverage her experience in the service of the Society as an added advantage against her opponents.
She has served as the Chairperson of the Legal Aid and Pro Bono Projects of the Uganda Law Society and believes her performance in the projects makes her the “tested leader” that the society membership knows can ” deliver results.” However, this has denied her the opportunity of being the change candidate given that she has been part of the outgoing society leadership which according to many members and observers has performed woefully.
Ms Nabaasa’s campaign for the ULS Presidency is premised on building a ULS that is ” faithful, available and teachable in its character and reputation.” She says the Law Society must be faithful to its membership and its stakeholders. She promises to ensure free, relevant, equitable professional development of lawyers that brings value to their lawyering business. She vows to create a society with value propositions to its membership.
” The ULS Identity Card should be able to add value to a lawyer’s life. You should be able to go to any hotel and get a discount because of that, you should be able to go to any hospital and get services because of your card, get special treatment in different clubs” Wall says.
The lawyer with over 15 years of experience in legal practice says the Law Society needs to increase its levels of accountability, advise the government and other stakeholders when they need it. ” Uganda Law Society should be an authority when it comes to policy and legal reform. Each and every Bill should be commented on.” She argues.
When it comes to society’s advancement of the rule of law, Ms Pheona Nabaasa Wall concentrated more on the lawyers’ brushes with the law and the state. She decried lawyer arrests in the conduct of their work and noted that the Legal Aid Project with its 2000 strong lawyer team will be instrumental in helping lawyers who get in trouble with the state in the conduct of their business. She also mulled the idea of private prosecutions against those who violate lawyers’ rights.
Pheona further promises to lobby government so that the Legal Aid Project is couched into a Legal Aid Bill inorder to ensure access to Justice not only for Lawyers but the indigent in society. Pheona Wall also promises to ensure ease of access to the Law Society’s services through decentralisation and automation. She pledges to consolidate the membership of the society by bringing together all lawyers wherever they work from in order to protect lawyers’ business which she says is threatened if lawyers remain like ” scattered bricks.”
Wall further advocates for partnerships with other bar associations in order to secure scholarships, secondment for lawyers. Clusters and society committees under her leadership will be tasked to examine new areas of practice within the region so as to secure business opportunities for lawyers.
Like Ssemambo and Pheona Wall, Bernard Oundo seeks to improve and create value for the membership of the Uganda Law Society. A Finance specialist and managing partner at Oundo and Company Advocates, Oundo proposes setting up a Savings Credit Scheme, and life insurance scheme for the Society’s membership.
” No more collecting money for the sick and permanently ill ” He declares describing self as ” solution oriented” and that he doesn’t lament.
A great debater, Bernard says for the Uganda Law Society to be a respectable bar association to the Public, it must deal with the sustainability of the Legal Aid Project and Pro Bono Project which his opponent Pheona Wall uses to woo the membership to vote her into the office.
Oundo says the Society needs to drive more donors, more money into these projects. However, in parry and strike debate strategy, Ms Pheona Wall responded to this argument saying she has already looked into the sustainability of the projects and together with her team have put in place an advisory board to look at their sustainability.
In terms of the rule of law, Bernard Oundo notes that the Law Society has been reduced to a ” statement issuing society ” whose statements on various aspects concerning the rule of law are no longer taken seriously by the government and the Public. He pledges to expand the role of the Law Society in the advancement of the rule of law beyond the popular human rights and political aspects into the relatively novel areas of law such as Intellectual Property, among others.
Oundo further pledges to ensure the independence of the Judiciary through a performance tool that would track how each Judicial officer is performing. ” Why should one Judge issue 90 Judgments and then another 5 Judgments? ” He wonders.
Part of the problems plaguing the Law Society membership such as delayed enrollment, Mr Bernard Oundo who has hosted about 12 webinars so far during the Coronavirus pandemic and cut for himself an image of an innovative and progressive lawyer says can be solved by technology.
To safeguard lawyers’ work spaces, Oundo, too, roots for specialization. He also pledges to advocate for the independence of the law council which currently is a department in the ministry of Justice and Constitutional affairs noting that quack lawyers are not a function of the law but regulation.
Mr Nelson Walusimbi
An advocate of 10 years experience and managing partner at Walusimbi and Co. Advocates, Nelson Walusimbi’s campaign is based on three key pillars of accountability or what he calls ” cleaning up the ULS,” addressing members’ social-economic welfare and ” ushering in an era of inclusiveness.”
Unlike all his opponents, Nelson seeks to expand the notion of accountability beyond finances or fiscal discipline to how the mandate of the Law Society is exercised. Although he wants a forensic audit into purported donor queries and financial impropriety, Nelson also wants the leadership of the society to explain how its decisions are arrived at.
” How do we send representatives to bodies that require law society membership? How much do we call back our representatives and give them marching orders? ” He asks.
Mr Walusimbi accuses the outgoing leadership of the Uganda Law Society of ignoring the law in its decision making noting that the law governing the law society does not envisage the society to be led by ” a strong man leader issuing statements all the time.”
By way of example, he cites the demolition of the ULS house at Acacia last year apparently to put up a new structure which he says was devoid of the authority of the ULS Executive Council.
” None of us here has seen the minutes or resolutions of the Executive Council meetings authorizing that. You can’t demolish an existing asset in anticipation of funds to construct and that’s why for me accountability is key. All the fancy, glossy things you are talking about will collapse with the current unaccountable leadership we have ” Walusimbi says.
Acknowledging that Law societies exist primarily to ensure the socio-economic welfare of their membership, Nelson pledges to stem ” extrajudicial ” police interference into lawyers’ work by not just issuing condemning statements but following up on individual officers who act extrajudicially against lawyers.
Nelson further pledges he will use the presidency if elected to ensure legal work is ring fenced for lawyers and that they are paid to scale noting that sometimes lawyer fraud is as a result of poor pay for lawyers.
Nelson who identifies as the “young lawyers’ candidate” further says under his leadership, young lawyers’ concerns of lack of contracts, poor work environments, among others which have ” lingered for sometime” will not be ignored.
Ms Anne Karungi
Perharps the most aggressive candidate in this campaign, commercial lawyer Anne Karungi who works at Muwema and Co Advocates and has served as representative for the Central Region on the ULS Executive committee, is running on a platform to clean the disappointing image of the Uganda Law Society especially on matters rule of law.
She believes as a ” strong voice and firm leader” the law society under her stewardship must not only speak for its membership but also the people of Uganda who she says are ” losing confidence in us.”
” The Public is tired of the ULS merely condemning acts of impunity without action. It is imperative to note at this point in time that the ULS stands at a very pivotal place in the affairs of our country because we are checkers of government in matters affecting fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
” Secondly, because of our cardinal role of ensuring access to justice to the vulnerable, marginalized in our country. The principles of our democracy as a country are standing on shaky ground as evidenced by the National Resistance Movement(NRM) Primaries and the ULS is no where” Anne Karungi says.
Her campaign is hinged on three key tenets; ethical leadership at the helm, transparency and accountability in the way the affairs of the society are run and leveraging technology to ensure lawyers access timely, relevant information in a fast and timely manner.
” Why should a lawyer in Kaberamaido or Abim have to wait for an AGM to get information concerning his society? Let us leverage technology and develop software where a lawyer is practicing in Gulu and he can see the CLE trainings we are going to have, the donors we have, the money in our dollar account – and this will instill confidence in the membership in their society” Anne Karungi says.
Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.
Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine - both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.