A group of city scribes led by Award-winning photojournalist, Abubaker Lubowa are challenging a decision by the Uganda Journalists’ Association (UJA) to hold polls on 12 December, saying it’s a date many participants will not make.
The challenge is contained in a petition filed to UJA on Friday in which they also called out the association for raising subscription fees at a time when many people are taking pay cuts over the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“National elections are a great concern to everyone and media plays a vital role. We demand that UJA elections be postponed until national elections at presidential and parliamentary level are concluded by the Electoral Commission,” the petion by Abubaker, Culton Scovia Nakamya and Becky Cynthia Nakimera reads in part.
Culton Scovia Nakamya and Becky Cynthia Nakimera are vying for the posts of Vice President and Secretary General respectively in the association while Abu wants to be president.
UJA is an umbrella body that brings together all journalists in Uganda under the motto “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.”
Abu and his colleagues cited the motto of the association as their inspiration for the petition.
They add, “Subscription fees and nomination fees should be determined by members of the association through a general assembly. UJA is for all journalists and therefore, the executive committee cannot decide how much subscription fees journalists should pay without involving them. The same should happen to nomination fees. Stakeholders like aspirants must be involved for the good of the association.”
The trio have also raised queries about the vetting process saying, “…should be done before nomination. We believe that UJA needs quality leaders with a good track record. However, screening must be done before a candidate is nominated to pave way for a free and fair electoral process and avoid wasting members’ resources.”
BELOW IS THE FULL PETITION
We refer to the above motto to table our concerns to you regarding the ongoing preparations for UJA elections 2020 to air out our concerns as follows;
National Campaign Exercise:
We understand that UJA has set 12th December 2020, as the election date for new executive members. This exercise requires time for both aspirants and members of the association to fully participate.
At the same time, Presidential, parliamentary and Local Government elections are expected to kick off November 9th,2020. This is a national exercise where the fourth estate is expected give wide coverage because the roadmap is short and therefore expected to be intense for journalists.
We would like to remind you that Article 10 (2) of the Constitution grants members a right to a free and fair election atmosphere as a demonstration of integrity and transparency.
We believe the above-mentioned political atmosphere in the country will not only leave out many journalists from full participation but will deny them a right to be part of their own elections.
The current UJA executive was voted into office in September 2018 and despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the executive was expected to organize elections within September while observing the Standard Operating Procedures issued by Ministry of Health.
It is however shocking to see that they chose to organize elections at such a critical time despite having time in September to do so.
We appreciate the executive for standing with journalists at the time they needed the association the most. Between April –July 2020, 90% of the media companies scaled down their workforce, due to the unprecedented effects of the lockdown. Hundreds struggled to survived but we recognize the fact that, UJA, improvised food aid and extended it to some of our colleagues. That is the UJA we want to see, that serves the underprivileged.
It must have come to your attention however, that up to now scores of journalists receive half pay while others work without a penny due to effects of Covid-19.
According to the roadmap, any journalist wishing to join the association must pay 50,000/= while others must pay 30,000/= to renew their membership, as a pre-requisite to participate in the forthcoming UJA elections.
While it is every stake holder’s duty to convince every journalist to join the association, raising payments from 30,000/= and 20,000/= for new members and renewals to shs50,000 and shs30,000 respectively, is like shooting a bullet in our own feet.
We agree that the association needs to raise money through membership subscriptions, but we strongly believe, that the fees have been raised without considering the above highlighted challenges within the media industry badly hit by the pandemic.
It is important to note that, several journalism associations and organizations have lower amounts as subscription fees.
For example, Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U) charges 20,000/= and 10,000/= for membership and renewal respectively whereas Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) only charges 10,000/= for new members and those renewing their subscription.
Regional associations like Entebbe Journalists Association and Greater Luweero Journalists Association also charge shs 20,000/=.
We believe that UJA is for all journalists, regardless of the part of the country they work from.
Therefore, increasing subscription fees is going to disenfranchise many especially upcountry journalists. The executive should benchmark on such organizations in terms of membership fees.
UJA Executive decided to increase the nomination fees from Shs 200, 000/= to Shs400, 000/= for presidential aspirants, 200,000/= for Vice President and Secretary General and 100,000/= for other posts. This is an abnormal fee and intended to lock out potential candidates given the financial constraints many journalists are going through due to the Covid-19 pandemic
It should be noted that UJA does not pay any remunerations to its executive members. It is entirely service at a voluntary basis and is therefore unfair to charge volunteers such abnormal fees to get nominated to run for the different offices.
Vetting of Candidates:
According to the road map, a vetting committee shall be set up to screen candidates after nomination. This exercise shall take place only a few days to elections.
We condemn this move in the strongest terms possible because it was not brought in good faith. A member cannot be vetted after committing resources and time to do campaigns. How will UJA account for their time and resources spent? This is only intended to spot the strong candidates and disqualify them in the name of vetting.
We recommend the following;
- Subscription fees and nomination fees should be determined by members of the association through a general assembly. UJA is for all journalists and therefore, the executive committee cannot decide how much subscription fees journalists should pay without involving them. The same should happen to nomination fees. Stakeholders like aspirants must be involved for the good of the association.
- The vetting process should be done before nomination. We believe that UJA needs quality leaders with a good track record. However, screening must be done before a candidate is nominated to pave way for a free and fair electoral process and avoid wasting members’ resources.
- We also demand that the executive re-visits the requirements for vetting. For example, the requirement of leadership record will see many journalists left out despite having served as leaders before but don’t have any documented record. Besides, locking out people without documented leadership records violates their right to participation.
- National elections are a great concern to everyone and media plays a vital role. We demand that UJA elections be postponed until national elections at presidential and parliamentary level are concluded by the Electoral Commission.
- All stakeholders including members, aspirants and opinion leaders must be involved in further decisions regarding this electoral process.
- We demand for an independent body to manage the electoral process to avoid manipulation since it has come to our attention that some members of the executive who are involved in organizing these elections are seeking key positions at the same time. The process will only be fair if such individuals are not part of the process.
- Lastly, we demand that the voters’ register be made public. Aspirants and members of the association have a right to know who is in the voters’ register and not. This is a public record which we believe, access must be granted for transparency and fairness.
We are ready to seek legal redress if our petition is not listened to and considered.
ABUBAKER LUBOWA CULTON SCOVIA NAKAMYA
Aspirant, UJA President. Aspirant, UJA Vice President
Becky Cynthia Nakimera
Aspirant, UJA Secretary General