The Speaker of Parliament is of the view that the law has served the elite at the expense of the uneducated rural populace. But the right to access to Information activists say parliament has not played its oversight function to ensure that the law is implemented as envisaged in 2005 when it was enacted.
Parliament Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah says 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 was the chief guest as Uganda joined the rest
of the world to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information held
annually on September 28.
The event in Uganda was 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.
While highlighting the need for the right to access to information,
Oulanyah said the civil society has not done much to ensure that all Ugandans whether
they are educated or not.
He said there is need for an evaluation to find out how the
Access To Information Act has impacted on rural communities, who make up
majority of the population.
“The Access to Information Act was enacted in 2005 and the question is,
since its enactment, of what benefit has it been to the ordinary person,” he
Jacob Oulanya is of the
view that the law which has been in place for over ten years has benefited those
on social media and generally the elite.
He made reference to the recent addressees by President Museveni on the
Covid-19 pandemic where he said that majority of people were only able to
access such information through the broadcast media.
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“They say that information is a public good, and it is true, but to whom.
Is it just a high sounding rhetoric or does it come to action to help people
who this information to change their situation and status. If we can’t change
their lives then we have no purpose saying what we are saying so eloquently in
these big meetings,” Oulanyah said.
But before Oulanyah’s speech, Africa Freedom of Access to Information Centre (AFIC)
Executive Director, Gilbert Sendugwa had highlighted examples 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.
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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.
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Joyce Ssebugwawo the Minister of ICT in charge of Information says that
information helps in delivery of Government services.
She said the government established information access
centers like the Government Citizens interaction centre as part of the efforts
to ensure that the government officers give out timely information to citizens
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While Uganda has been hailed for being among the first
African countries to enact the Access to Information law, several scholars and
studies have found that the law has not been implemented. 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 on the other hand been faulted failure to
demand that the Minister of Information and National Guidance provides an annual
update on the status of access to Information Act.