• Home |
  • Access to Information in Uganda: Prospects and Hurdles

Access to Information in Uganda: Prospects and Hurdles

  • 31/05/2024

Access to information is a fundamental human right essential for transparency, accountability, and empowerment. In Uganda, the landscape of information accessibility is evolving rapidly, presenting both opportunities and challenges.


On 17th May, 2024, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) joined The Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) and other Civil society organisations in a one day press plenary on “Empowering Democratic Governance: Citizen-Centric Parliament, Information Access, and Press Freedom in Uganda.” AFIC discussed access to information in Uganda; its prospects and hurdles.


The Parliament Press Plenary convened members from parliamentary press associations, members of parlianment and individuals engaged in monitoring parliament, advocating for transparency, accountability, and good governance in Uganda. Participants came from across the country with representation from different regions; including the Northern Region, Central, Western, Eastern, Northern, and West Nile.


With support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Centre for Policy Analysis (CEPA) is currently undertaking a project to enhance the transparency, accountability, and responsiveness of the Ugandan parliament to the citizens of Uganda. The project seeks to ensure that Citizens, CSOs and other stakeholders have greater access to analytical, accurate and consumable information about parliament. In addition, the project aims to enhance Parliamentary legislative, budget and oversight functions informed by citizens aspirations, and that there is Increased audience engagement with Parliament through digital Technology.


Access to Information in Uganda: Prospects and Hurdles

 –

Gaaba Lakel Maria – Communications and Advocacy from Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)

Maria Lakel Gaaba discussed the right to access information, which is grounded in the broader right to freedom of expression. This right includes the ability of every individual to seek and obtain information held by public authorities. She explained that The Constitution of Uganda grants citizens the right to access information held by the government, meaning they can request nearly any information from almost any government body, with civil servants obligated to provide the requested information unless it compromises state security or individual privacy (Article 41; Section 5 of the Constitution).

Scope and Legal Framework

 

A public body, as defined, includes government ministries, departments, statutory corporations, authorities like the Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA), and commissions such as the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC). The Access to Information Act (2005) and its Regulations (2011) elaborate on how this constitutional right should be exercised, specifying the types of information citizens can request and the exemptions that apply. The Act’s purposes include promoting transparency and accountability, protecting whistleblowers, providing timely and accurate information, and empowering public scrutiny and participation in government decisions.


Legal Basis and Importance


In addition to national provisions, the right of access to information is protected under international and regional human rights laws. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) affirm this right. Access to information is crucial for democracy, enabling citizens to participate in public life, ensuring government efficiency, and enhancing public trust.


Current Implementation and Challenges


The presentation highlighted several initiatives undertaken to promote this right since the enactment of the Access to Information Act in 2005. These include the establishment of the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, development of the Government Communication Strategy, provision of public education airtime, and support from civil society organizations like the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC).


Despite these efforts, challenges remain. Studies show that few information requests are made, with a low success rate. AFIC’s 2019 report revealed that only 9% of 4,059 known requests were partially successful, with 81% still awaiting responses beyond the 21-day statutory limit. Additionally, many government bodies have not complied with the requirement to submit annual reports to Parliament on information requests and responses.


Public and Official Engagement


The presentation highlighted a persistent culture of secrecy among public servants, and noted that many elected and appointed leaders lack knowledge of the Access to Information Law and its regulations. It also discussed how citizens, particularly journalists, have not proactively used the law, partly due to the lengthy response time of 21 days, which is impractical for timely news reporting.


Consequences of Limited Information Requests


The presentation discussed the consequences of limited information requests, including limited accountability, decreased civic engagement, ineffective oversight, increased misinformation, economic consequences, and weakened democracy.


AFIC’s Role in Promoting Access to Information


AFIC’s role in promoting the right of access to information was emphasized, including capacity building, publishing manuals, conducting research, offering free online courses, and engaging the public via social media and community outreaches.


Recommendations for Citizens


The presentation concluded with recommendations for citizens to enhance the right of access to information, such as embracing the culture of requesting public information, studying the legal provisions, providing airtime for discussions on the topic, asking critical questions to those in power, and publishing empowering stories that encourage others to exercise their right.


Conclusion

The presentation underscored the need for continuous education, proactive engagement, and accountability measures to overcome the challenges in implementing the Access to Information Act. It emphasized that these efforts are essential to fully realize the benefits of this fundamental right