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The bureaucracy in accessing information related to government activities is affecting the efficiency of several radio programs in Kitgum district. Journalists hosting the programs say heads of departments are too reluctant to participate in the programming.
Some of the popular radio programs include Kacoke Madit Pa Tembo, a weekly political debate held every Saturday afternoon on Tembo FM. Osin Swale, the host of Kacoke Madit Pa Tembo loosely translated as the Big Meeting of Tembo says lack of participation of departmental heads has made so many of his programs to proceed without the necessary expert voices.
Swale says some of the departmental heads have indicated to him that they are unwilling to appear on the show alongside certain panelists while others cite busy schedules.
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According to Swale, the departmental heads blame him for allowing the program to proceed without their participation even when they failed to honor his invitation to appear on the show.
Reno Opio, a host of a morning show and political debates says access to information in the district is too complicated for local journalists. Opio says with news being a perishable good, many articles are published without proper backing from the line departmental heads.
He says the practice has given leeway for opposition politicians to mislead the public on certain government programs in the district. According to Opio, in addition to lack of capacity by some journalists, some heads of departments are reluctant to participate in radio programs because of conflict of interest.
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The challenges are shared by other journalists working in the district. They say their dilemma stems from a strained working relationship that arose from the way the nodding syndrome was covered in the district in 2011.
Opio says this relationship is yet to be amended after many journalists and heads of departments were harassed and threatened with sacking by some district officials.
According to Reno Opio, the District Information Office established to furnish the media and the public with government information is also ill equipped to perform its duties.
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Recently, President Yoweri Museveni issued a written directive instructing heads of departments at local government level to avail the media relevant information on government programs under their supervisions. He said the move would spur transparency, enhance accountability and drive development of the country.
Allan Courage Oola, the Kitgum district Information Officer (DIO) says the roots of challenges these journalists face are buried in two policy instruments, the civil servants standing order and oath of secrecy civil servants take when assuming duties.
Oola says another hindrance is the public service standing order that designates the Chief Administrative Officer as the official spokesperson of the district. He says the trend is changing with directives from the office of the Prime Minister and the President.
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According to Oola, to access information from the district departments, journalists are expected to following certain procedures including seeking permission from the head of civil servants.
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Denis Katungi is Media Relations Manager in Uganda Media Center, which is under the office of the President. He says government is working on a new synergy that will break the red tape in access to government information on the principle of open government.
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