- Less than one out of 10 Ugandans (7 per cent) say they do not want any information from government
- Ordinary Ugandans are not the only ones who are denied information but also institutions and professionals
- Citizens also believe strongly in their right to access government information
- 8 out of 10 say information held by public authorities is a public resource (77 per cent) and that citizens should be able to access information from government (78 per cent)
By Ronald Orachwun Cox
Nebbi- A report released by Uwezo/Twaweza has shown that more than half of Ugandans have been to a public health facility (75 per cent), a public school (69 per cent), and village or street offices (54 per cent) to request information, showing how citizens are hungry for it.
The areas of information access included the desire to have more information from government on public services spending (47 per cent), jobs in government (14 per cent) and money sent to districts (7 per cent).
The Advocacy Manager at Twaweza, Ms Violet Alinda, says Uganda is a regional champion in terms of financial transparency and the access to information law has been around for much longer than those of other countries.
“Concerted effort is needed in proactive information sharing from local authorities, in particular via radio and community meetings – this both makes some information available as a default and sends a signal that government business is open to scrutiny.”
She adds that officials in local authorities need to be trained and sensitized on the law and their responsibility in sharing information. This again sends an important signal to public servants and citizens as well as overcoming officials’ knowledge gaps about this law.
These findings have been shared by Twaweza to mark International Right to Know Day in a short brief titled Access to Information: unblocking the flow, fulfilling the potential. The data are drawn from a number of sources including Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi, omnibus national surveys commissioned by Twaweza, a desk review of literature on the subject and a scoping study conducted by the ICT Policy Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA).
A man operates a radio that is a key source of information. Photo by Felix
Despite strong support and desire to access government information, citizens think that this information is hard to get. According to the respondents, eight out of 10 Ugandans say it would be difficult or impossible to get information from government on the development budget (90 per cent), agricultural extension services (87 per cent), school exam performance rankings (85 per cent).
The AskYourGov.ug website (76 per cent) and the Hub for Investigative Media (62 per cent) both show that the majority of requests in between 2013 and 2015 are marked as pending (not yet responded to) questions.
CIPESA (2016) found that government institutions seemed to use different tactics to avoid fulfillment of access to information requests including providing incomplete or outdated data, treating requesters with suspicion or hostility, and delaying or dismissing requests for no reason.
The report also shows that 100 per cent citizens seek information from government through physically visiting the relevant office physically while 71 per cent use the phones. Other means of communication including the internet are used by less than 1 out of 10 Ugandans.
But when it comes to their main source of information, citizens undeniably chose radio (75 per cent) as their preferred means to receive information from government with community meetings (32 per cent) a distant second.
Responding to queries of “what government can do to help remove these blockages to information, respondents of the survey said, making information proactively available and accessible, promoting its availability rather than waiting for citizens to request it and training all government personnel on the access to information law.
On the government side, there are a number of laws that counters the spirit of the access to information law including the Evidence Act, the Official Secrets Act and some parts of the Penal Code.