All districts to have communication officers – govt official
Last Updated on: 10th March 2022, 10:00 am
A study conducted by Twaweza showed that 70 per cent of Ugandans who requested information were denied.
By Awor Christine
Kole – March 10, 2022: The Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Kole has advised civil servants and political leaders to always hold “barazas” in the communities.
Caroline Angolere made this call at Kole district headquarter where she was the guest of a dialogue organised by Twaweza, Africa Freedom of Information Center (AFIC), AMACOD and the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance on access to information in Uganda.
RDC Angolere noted that reaching out to the community through “barazas” will make you understand even the innermost problems that are affecting them.
She acknowledges the gap in communication between the community and leaders to the extent that most people are not aware of most government programs like the Parish Development Model.
According to her, there is a need for communication officers to be recruited right from the village level.
The Town Clerk (TC) of Kole town council, James Peter Odur commented that a person who has denied you information would rather just kill you because it’s through the information that we make certain decisions in life.
“This is the biggest gap we have as a district, you find that information sent to you has landed in wrong hands because of lack of custodians of information (communication officers) and at the end of the day the information is lost,” he stated
Marie Nanyanzi, the programs manager of Twaweza said that most communities don’t know that it is their right to access information, adding that most civil servants do not know that it’s their mandate to disseminate information to the public whenever needed.
According to research done by Twaweza in 2018-2019, 70 per cent of Uganda citizens were denied access to information. This, according to Nanyanzi, is because of a lack of knowledge on who to approach whenever they need information.
Suzan Juliet Agwang, Information officer with AFIC, said there are protocols one can follow while accessing information although there is some information that can not be given to the public.
“The government should only be able to restrict access to information that is vital to national security, minutes of cabinet meetings, information on the operations of public bodies, commercial information, personal information, information on law enforcement and legal proceedings, but anything other than that, a citizen should receive a response to the requested information within 21 days according to Access to Information Act, 2005,” she said.
According to Agwang, any civil servant who denies access to information to any Uganda citizen can face arrest and imprisonment according to the Constitution of Uganda.
The assistant commissioner in charge of the communications at the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Slyvia Nakabugu Biraahwa appealed to civil servants and journalists to first have a good working relationship for easy access to the information.
“We are working upon a draft that will enable all the district’s local governments to have communication officers and their assistants to bridge the communication gaps…,” she revealed, in Kole.
Nakabugu cautioned civil servants to stop concealing information from the public even though they have made an oath of allegiance. “There is some information that the citizens need.”
To the whistleblowers, the commissioner appealed to them to always be informed and ready to defend the information they give the media and civil servants because it is mandatory.
“When you bring any information to the responsible leaders, be it to the district officials or journalists, you are not going to be exposed but you should be ready with enough evidence to defend yourself if something sensitive comes out of it.”
Access to Information is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom of expression, as recognized by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
It states that “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 regardless of the frontiers.”
Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995 gives every citizen the right to access information and hold the government accountable.
The same article mandates Parliament to make laws prescribing procedures for obtaining access to that information.
The Access to Information Act was passed into law in 2000 followed by regulations in 2011. This means that every Ugandan has legal and constitutional rights to get access to information held by any government institution.