By Esther Nakazzi |
On September 28, 2015, Uganda commemorated International Right to Know Day (RTK) with celebrations marking the 10th Anniversary of the Access to Information Act (ATIA), which promotes the right of access to public information held by the State.
During the celebrations held alongside the 2015 Forum on Internet Freedom in East Africa, experiences, lessons and challenges relating to ATIA, which was passed back in 2005, were discussed. The event also served as the launch of the 2015 report on the State of the Right to Information in Africa.
Uganda was the first country in East Africa to adopt an access to information law. It was followed by Rwanda in 2013, making the two land locked nations the only ones out of the five countries that constitute the East African Community (EAC) with existing Access to Information laws. However, regulations to actualise the implementation of ATIA in Uganda were only passed six years later in 2011.
10 years on, the country has made significant strides. The Uganda Debt Network reports that at least 62 percent of Ugandans can access budget information. Hilda Namagembe said Uganda ranks among the 19 countries able to provide substantial budget information, the challenge, however, is if they cannot tell if the citizens are using the information for action.
Teacher transfers to fill gaps in schools, better budget allocations and improved public health service delivery to grassroots communities including the availability of medicine in health facilities are some of the other reported ways the right to information has successfully improved livelihoods.
Meanwhile, in order to encourage more citizens to exercise their right, in August last year, the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) through the Ministry of Information and National Guidance in partnership with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Africa Freedom OF Information Centre (AFIC) launched the online portal – Ask Your Government (www.askyourgov.ug) to enable citizens to directly query Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Government of Uganda for information.
Proactive release of information however is low, while the culture of secrecy and fear of reprisal remains prevalent. According to Gilbert Sendugwa the Executive Director, AFIC, “many Ugandans still do not understand what it means to have the Access to Information Act”. Sendugwa added that building awareness, demand and creating responsiveness was required in order to improve the ATIA knowledge among citizens.
Silvia Birahwa from the Directorate of Information and National Guidance noted that as a result of the delay in passing ATIA’s regulations, they have had different levels of compliance within government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), with some government officials compliant and others making little or no responses to requests for information.
Kenneth Lubogo, a Member of Parliament for Bulamogi County in Kaliro district said it was imperative to make the whole system mandatory, so that government information officers have a reason to do it.
Birahwa said that Information officers within various MDAs reported a lack of capacity including limited access to internet and a lack of interest as barriers to the release of information.
Accordingly, the recently updated government communication strategy is aimed to better equip Chief Information Officers within the MDAs to better respond to information requests and to aid the progress of the ATIA.
In recognition of some MDAs who have adopted the right to information and exercise this by promptly and adequately responding to information requests, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) received an award for their commitment to the consistent and prompt release of information using the www.askyourgov.ug website. Dennis Obbo the Principal Information Scientist at MLHUD received the award on behalf of the Ministry.
The celebrations to mark a decade of ATIA were hosted by AFIC and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) together with the Office of the Prime Minister.
Originally published at UgandaSciGirl