Kampala March 12, 2017
Under the auspices of the African Union (AU)-European Union (EU) Partnership, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) will host a major Pan-African Conference on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
The conference will be held from March 25-26, 2017 at the Commonwealth Speke Resort, Munyonyo and will be attended by over 50 experts and advocates of freedom of expression from across African continent. The conference will be opened by senior officials from the African Union Commission, European Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Government of Uganda.
Commenting on the event, Gilbert Sendugwa, AFIC’s Executive Director and member of the Joint AU-EU CSO Steering Committee on the partnership on human rights and democratic governance noted,
“this conference represents one of the key actions to implement the AU-EU Roadmap approved by the Heads of State Summit in April 2014”.
He added that where there has been notable progress, in many African countries the situation of freedom of expression has taken a deep regress. Arrest and intimidation of journalists, closure of media houses, and internet shutdowns among other violations have been common.
During the 12th Human Rights Dialogue of the African Union and European Union held on November 24, 2015 in Kigali, Rwanda both parties endorsed civil society recommendation to hold a Pan African Conference at which the situation of freedom of expression would be discussed.
In a statement in Mogadishu, Mr. Omar Faruk Osman chairperson of the CSO Steering Committee observed that unlike other professions, journalists are killed for doing their work. Journalists need a safe environment in which they can hold power to account without retribution. This cannot be achieved without addressing impunity of crimes against journalists. He added.
Over the past few years, the African Union and the global community at large have prioritized and adopted measures to ensure a protective environment for freedom of expression practitioners. This conference will discuss ways to bridge the gap between freedom of expression policy and practice in Africa.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership and Hivos are pleased to present the Open Contracting in Uganda: A Scoping Study. This report presents the state of (1) disclosure of open data, documents, and information about the planning, procurement, and management of public contracts; (2) participation and use of contracting data by non-state actors; and (3) accountability and redress by government agencies or contractors acting on the feedback that they receive from civil society and companies.
The study aimed to:
i. Document current levels of openness in public contracting in target systems;
ii. Map key stakeholders and their capacities and enthusiasm for advancing open contracting; and
iii. Develop of recommendations on realistic targets and use cases for open contracting moving forward.
This study found that Uganda promotes open contracting as reflected in the legal and policy environment, infrastructure, and human resource initiatives. Within the top leadership, there was political willingness to promote open contracting. However, this willingness has yet to translate into total commitment and action. It also found that there is competence to implement open contracting initiatives especially around proactive disclosure of contract information since the launch of the procurement portal. Public participation needs to be enhanced.
The overall finding of this assessment is that Uganda has the potential to implement open contracting initiatives, considering that large quantities of contracting data are proactively disclosed through the government procurement portal. Issues regarding existing policy, data capacity, and civic engagement should be urgently addressed to institutionalize open contracting. Goals should be aimed at achieving early success and gaining demonstrable benefits with respect to improving service delivery, and the government should strive to build a sound foundation for sustainability over the long term.
A number of recommendations were made, including having the government, particularly at the top executive level, fully commit to open contracting; tasking a government body like the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) to champion open contracting; and creating awareness among public officers, citizens, and the private sector on the benefits of open contracting. Commitment from the top executive level will pave the way for more opportunities for open contracting in the private and public sectors.
On the whole, it was noted that although the Government of Uganda is implementing a number of initiatives on open contracting, there is lack of effective coordination and direction. Thus, it is important to establish leadership to champion open contracting in a structured and coordinated manner.
Open Contracting Initiative in Uganda reflect trends of improvement in the public disclosure process.
In every country, nearly everyone will know or have experienced a contract which has either not been executed properly or citizens have lost money due to collusion, corruption, delays, cost escalation or conflicts. Open contracting seeks to promote value for money in public contracting through citizens’ access to information and participation through monitoring of contracts.
A recent scoping study on Open Contracting in Uganda conducted by AFIC with the support of Hivos shows that the country has a robust legal and institutional environment enabling the implementation of open contracting initiatives. A set of legislative instruments provide a substantial framework in regard to a public disclosure which is an absolute pre-requisite to transparency and accountability throughout the procurement cycle. The Government of Uganda and its leadership has committed to prioritising this issue as a means to reduce mismanagement, waste, corruption and to enhance value for money in public contracts and services.
President Museveni recently declared his current term of his presidency “Hakuna Muchezo”- no jokes in reference to his determination to ensure government projects deliver to citizens’ expectations while at the same time addressing corruption. A number of government institutions like Ministry of Finance, Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA), Ministry of Local Government, Directorate of Ethics and Integrity, and Office of the Prime Minister have embraced important elements of open contracting through proactive disclosure procurement information and openly speaking in favour of open contracts.
PPDA in particular, has taken major step towards open contracting by prioritising promotion of citizen monitoring of public contracts and establishing the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) where agencies publish procurement and disposal of public assets information. This is consistent with Articles 38 and 41 of the Constitution which guarantee citizens right to information and participation respectively. Inspite of a strong legal and policy environment that provides for obligations and guarantees regarding citizen access to information and public disclosure of data procurement, Global Integrity findings for Uganda in 2015 reveals gaps between commitment and implementation, rating both rights effectiveness at 25 over 100 in the practice. This is partly because emphasis has been placed on transparency by and not as much on stimulating authentic participation.
The Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) has developed important tools and methodologies to strengthen multi-stakeholder engagement to resolve common challenges in a constructive manner. The Open ContractingGlobal Principles in particular, provides framework for a positive policy and legal environment for open contracting. On the other hand, theOpen Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) provides guidance what data exists at different stages of the contracting process how this data should be published.
AFIC and its members in collaboration with OCP promote open contracting initiatives in Africa. The focus has been on advocating for an appropriate policy environment, research, capacity building and building alliances between the demand and supply sides of open contracting. Consequently African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Corte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Tunisia have through respective Open Government Partnership National Action Plans or anticorruption Summit declarations committed to implement open contracting. This is tremendous progress as compared to the year 2015 when no African country had an open contracting commitment.
In Uganda, AFIC engaged several procuring entities in regard to the compliance with their disclosure obligations. It has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) with three district local governments and with PPDA to strengthen access to public information and enable citizens to monitor public expenditures and services. AFIC has also trained public servants and CSOs on ATI to enhance the implementation of the legal framework and promote citizens demand for information and accountability health, education, agriculture and social protection. These efforts address challenges earlier experienced with access to contract information as well as poor functioning of social services.
In September 2016, AFIC engaged PPDA on the need to strengthen open contracting by aligning GPP to OCDS. This was in follow-up to AFIC’s preliminary mapping of GPP which found a number of positive areas but also gaps such as missing data, inconsistence of data secured from GPP and directly from procurement entities and lack of unique identifier for the whole procurement process for individual contracts.
In a later communication from PPDA Compliance Manager, it was confirmed that these recommendations were being addressed. It was then agreed that AFIC undertakes a full mapping of GPP based on OCDS and provide a comprehensive report for discussion and action. During discussions with PPDA Director Capacity Building & Advisory Services, Mr Moses Ojambo it was agreed that collaboration on training community monitors could be explored since PPDA has guidelines and expertise on procurement laws and regulations while AFIC and its partners have a network of community monitors in districts.
Moreover in the Strategy and Roadmap for the Implementation of e-Government Procurement in Uganda, 2014, the Government of Uganda has identified e-procurement as an essential element in e-transactions, having a role both in accelerating the transition of the Ugandan economy to an information society; and contributing to the attainment of the Government objective of modernizing the public service through the development of new, innovative and more efficient procurement processes. Government objective of modernising the public service through the development of new, innovative and more efficient procurement processes shows an evolution towards the possibility to introduce OCDS into the e-procurement framework and the advantage that citizens and other stakeholders could draw from such initiative.
These efforts and commitments by Uganda illustrate a trend for improvement on open contracting and provide for new opportunities to strengthen the public disclosure process. If these initiatives and commitments were to be fully implemented, it would result in a significant progress towards better procurement outcomes and services.
Open contracting does not limit itself to improve public disclosure but extends to public participation and engagement as well as holding entities accountable. It relies on a constructive environment between government, private sector and civil society to ensure that there is trust amongst them. These efforts will increase performance and value for money in public procurement. PPDA has made significant commitments to its current strategic plan to "promote civil society monitoring of contracts" and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) in this regard.
In order to foster such partnerships, public participation mechanisms in public affairs also need to be strengthened. For instance, internal and external institutional oversights should be more inclusive such as to favour exchange of information with the public. Another type of partnership could be induced in a consultative instance such as Baraza. This initiative offers opportunities for citizens and government to exchange information, identify public issues and remedies.
In December 2016, AFIC and other stakeholders will share their various experiences on open contracting and discuss ways in which disclosure and participation in public contracting could be improved. Participants will be introduced to and oriented to Open Contracting data Standards and experiences in their applications with a view of development of strategies to boost open contracting in Uganda.
The Uganda Bureau of StatisticsAct 1998; the Public Procurement and Disposal of Pubic Assets Act 2003; the National Information Technology Authority Act of 2009; Local Government Act 2010; Access to Information Act in 2005; and its related Access to Information Regulation in 2011.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
STOP IMPUNITY AGAINST FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION PRACTIONERS
Africa Freedom of Information Centre condemns the impunity against freedom of expression practitioners in Africa and World over. Over the years we have witnessed increased attack on freedom of expression through killings, harassment and intimidation of journalists in particular. This is quite often perpetrated by state agencies and officials, militia groups, individuals connected to power and dealers whose interests are threatened by the work of journalists in their cardinal role of informing the public.
Over the past ten years, 827 journalists have been killed, more than 100 in Africa during the course of their duty. Thousands have been violently attacks, intimidated or equipment confiscated. Disturbingly, there has been systematic lack of political will to investigate and punish perpetrators. In Africa, only 4 out of 104 cases of the killings have been investigated and resolved.
Growing cases of harassment, intimidation, assault and killings of journalists by state agencies and its militia is a worrying trend especially in countries like The Gambia, Kenya, Angola, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leon, Niger and Guinea that are preparing for general elections between December 2016 and end of 2017.
Such incidences are contrary to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, adopted in 1948, reads:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
And Article 9 (2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which states that,
“Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.”
This video, “Stop Impunity Against Journalists” documents and highlights impunity against journalists in Africa.
AFIC urges all member states to the African Union to protect and ensure the safety of journalists and stop harassing, intimidating, assaulting and killing of journalists but respect and observe the Freedom of expression and the right to know which is a fundamental right protected by international law and national frameworks.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) on October 28, 2016 urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to urgently carry out a study the state of impunity against journalists in Africa as a means to advance citizens access to information in Africa. While addressing the 59th Ordinary Session of ACHPR, Gilbert Sendugwa AFIC’s Head of Secretariat observed that whereas the number of African countries with freedom of information laws has increased, this has not addressed the situation of human rights abuses and corruption in part due to increased attacks and killings of journalists. He added that killings and attacks on freedom of expression practitioners tend to increase in circumstances where information is needed most- elections, conflict, and procurement among other spheres.
“Journalists play an important infomediary role of receiving and transmitting information to the people. The practice of public officials for political and economic personal gain makes leaders determined to protect information about these vices at all costs. This has made the practice of journalism risky” observed Gilbert Sendugwa.
In calling on measures to address the problem, Mr. Sendugwa inquired:
Can we address this problem without knowing how big it is, where it is predominant, who is affected, how, who are the perpetrators, how are they protected, by whom and under what circumstances?
There has been progress over the last few years with the number of access to information laws in Africa increasing from five in 2010 to twenty in 2016. Both the African Union and United Nations recently recognised citizens’ access to information in respective development frameworks. However, lack of capacity for implementation and poor utilisation on the demand side threatens the realisation of targets set by both the United Nations and the African Union.
To this end, AFIC further urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to modify guidelines for State Periodic Reports on Access to Information to be aligned to targets set by AU Agenda 2063 and UN Sustainable Goals. Citing an example of Uganda, Kenya and Malawi where funding for access to information is yet to be realised, Gilbert observed:
Our experience reveals that it is individual agencies rather than Government as a whole that implements yet in Uganda for example budget is only allocated to the Ministry of Information while in Kenya and Malawi no agency is allocated budget for ATI implementation. AFIC urged Member States to start allocating budget and building technical capacities of public agencies to effectively the right to information at individual agency level.
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