Uganda could have been one of the first countries in Africa to enact the Access to Information law in 2005, but its implementation especially among the rural communities has been limited.
Access to information law promotes the right of access to public information held by the State. Regulations to actualise the implementation of the law in Uganda were only passed six years later in 2011. In Uganda it has mainly benefited the population hooked on social media and the elite.
While commemorating the day this year on 28th September, it was observed that government officers at the Central and local Governments continue to hide under laws of secrecy to deny citizens access to information and public records.
Parliament has also failed to demand that the Minister of Information and National Guidance to provide an annual update on the status of access to Information Act.
Speaking on the day’s commemoration, Parliament Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah said there is need to ensure that all Ugandans understand the value of the right to access to information. He said while Uganda and other countries have enacted laws guaranteeing the right to access to information, such laws seem to benefit a small section of the society especially the elite.
Jacob Oulanyah at the event hosted by Africa Freedom To Access to Information (AFIC) and Twaweza East Africa’s Uganda Office. The theme of the 2021 International Day for Universal Access to Information highlighted the role of access to information laws and their implementation to build back strong institutions for the public good and sustainable development, as well as to strengthen the right to information and international cooperation in the field of implementing this human right.
Oulanyah also faulted civil society which has not done much to ensure that all Ugandans whether they are educated or not and demanded for an evaluation to find out how the Access To Information Act has impacted on rural communities, who make up majority of the population.
For instance, addresses made by President Museveni on the Covid-19 pandemic are mostly accessible to the elite and through the broadcast media. Africa Freedom of Access to Information Centre (AFIC) Executive Director, Gilbert Sendugwa highlighted examples like contracts information in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi demonstrating how citizen’s access to information unearthed rot in government contracts.
Sendugwa said when citizens access information, corruption is fought in the different offices. “We have learnt from our work in Uganda that when government agencies disclose information, they receive great feedback from civil society and other data users which helps these agencies to perform better,” he said.
Information is a public good but in Uganda it is still rhetoric and does not come to action to help people who this information to change their situation and status. “If we can’t change the lives of people then we have no purpose saying what we are saying so eloquently in these big meetings,” Oulanyah said.
While the government says it has enabled citizens to access to information through barazas and regular press conferences, civil society groups want the citizens to access information and records on contracts, tenders and details in budgets.
The Head of the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Secretariat Salah Hammad at the African Union (AU) says that Governments should advance and protect the rights to access to information.