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Donnas Ojok, program officer at KAS, gave a short introduction to the topic and explained what access to information means: “Every individual shall have the right to seek, receive information and the right to express its opinion. This is not only a human right according to the Charters of the UN and the African Union, but also a well-established part of the Ugandan constitution”. Furthermore, he emphasized the existence of an information gap, since 98% of Ugandans find that information is crucial for good management and government, but 60% also find it difficult to access public information. Therefore, the need for knowing the domestic legal framework became clear to present journalists and NGO representatives.
Tied to this, the Director of HIM, Edward Sekyewa, started to explain the essence of the Access to Information Act 2005 – the law that established the details of the provision given by the constitution. The purpose of this law is to promote an effective, efficient, transparent and accountable government. Mr. Sekyewa stated that it is the right and responsibility of every citizen to ensure the effective implementation of this law. Further, he highlighted the significant role of journalists in public information delivery: “You are the ears and eyes of your society.” According to the law, journalists are not obliged to give a reason, when they request information and they can sue the responsible government official, if they do not receive an answer after 21 days. Mr. Sekyewa who is also a journalist spiced his lecture with practical insights from his work and legal cases he pursued.
On the second day the workshop addressed local leaders of Lango region. Mr. Sekyewa highlighted their crucial role as accountable representatives and provider of information: “You as leaders are responsible to ensure effective and transparent delivery of information to citizens, journalists and civil society organizations”. In this context, the duty of leaders to promote civic participation in decision-making was emphasized. Again, an easygoing and respectful atmosphere was created by the facilitator.
During the final public dialogue on Thursday Mr. Ojok highlighted the opportunities social media platforms bring to all stakeholders: “Government offices should embrace this chance not only to cut cost but also to improve information flow and effectiveness”. Betty, who works at Transparency International, gave insights into her work experience and clarified that basic access to information is still a difficult challenge. Mr. Sekyewa as well as other participating journalists stated that there is a lack of investigative journalism in Uganda. In order to create better conditions for this kind of journalism, awareness about the Access to Information Act needs to be enhanced among all stakeholders.
The public dialogue served as a great final because this format made it possible that participants from the first two days could directly engage with each other and apply their newly gained knowledge while discussing the issues of transparency and accountability. The importance of these issues for a pluralistic, democratic society was clearly clarified, so that it is now up to the participating journalists, NGO representatives and government officials to ensure an effective and comprehensive implementation of the existing laws.
Background Information: Since 2012, the Hub for Investigative Media has actively been engaged in capacity building and advocacy campaigns to foster the improvement of the implementation of the Access to Information 2005 Act and Access to Information Regulations 2011. This has been done by organizing training workshops targeting local government officials and sensitizing the public about the law.
Written by Valentin Penczek