Access to information becomes a human right

Conference on access to information
Conference on access to information

Government has come up with a communication strategy that will improve the capacity of each respective government ministry, department or agency to proactively give information.

According to Simon Mayende, Director of Information and National Guidance in the office of the Prime Minister, the move is intended to ease information flow between the government departments or agencies and the public.

“We have set up communication units in respective ministries and we are recommending that a certain percentage of the budget be put to the communication component to ensure that information is shared smoothly for the benefit of Ugandans,” he said.

Mayende says that with the policy fully in place, all research information from different agencies will be accessible through the parent ministries instead of being shelved in the initiating organs.

“In the first place there is a national policy on the flow of government information. Unfortunately, it may not be widely available but we are going to make sure that we upload it on our site so that it accessible because it is one of the documents that were passed long ago.”

That policy assures everybody seeking information from government to access it with minimal frustration, although sometimes it is not the case.

“But we are working towards improving the flow of government information,” Mayende told participants during
the African Platform on Access to Information sensitisation workshop organised by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) at Hotel Africana.

“Access to information is considered a fundamental human right, so we are moving from a position where it was not considered important but with today’s technology advancement it is important. I want to assure you on behalf of the Republic of Uganda that government seriously supports access to information because it has put structures in place to support access to information for those that seek it.”

Ugandans have had an Access to Information Act since 2005 and according to an assessment done by the Africa Freedom Information Centre on the capacity of public bodies to implement the act, many public officials that are supposed to direct its implementation were not even aware of the existence of the act.

According to Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator of the African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), two of every three information requests filed to government departments are not honoured, which he attributes to various reasons.

According to the publication Struggle for Access released by AFIC in March this year, out of the 33 information requests filed by civil society organisations to different government departments including Local Government Administrative
Units and several ministries, 21 of the requests were denied access to the desired information with only 12 being granted.

This was the period between 2008 to last year. Sendugwa further observes that also on the demand from CSOs, very few are asking for this information due the fact that they do not know how to ask for it.

“We hope and think that understanding the principles of the act will help in implementing the act and responsiveness on the side of the public officials. But also on the side of demand from the Civil Society organisations we note that very few are asking and it is not that they know but they may not know that there are regulations and applicable forms that can be used to get things that they might need,” he said.

From the workshop the participants from this African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) declaration called on civil society organisations in Africa to mainstream access to information in their daily work, for the media to make optimum use of ATI frameworks to access information for public interest and for public and private donors to ensure that all information relating to the use of development assistance and its effects are made public.

The APAI Declaration was adopted at the end of the first ever Pan African Conference on Access to Information held in Cape Town, South Africa in September last year. This declaration is the most comprehensive African Declaration on the right to information in Africa.

This declaration suggests solutions to challenges in Africa by highlighting the relevance of the right to information in elections and electoral processes, disadvantaged communities, women and gender, children and youth and many other sectors.

By Savio Kyambadde