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Access to information vital for fight against graft

By Vision Reporter

Added 7th October 2015 03:38 PM

Uganda recently joined the rest of the African Union and Member states in marking September 28th as the International Right to Information Day.

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Maureen Agaba is works with Uganda Debt Network

Uganda recently joined the rest of the African Union and Member states in marking September 28th as the International Right to Information Day.

By Maureen Agaba

Uganda recently joined the rest of the African Union and Member states in marking September 28th as the International Right to Information Day.

The day is a platform at which governments, citizens and the international community can discuss ways to promote transparency, and address challenges affecting human rights and governance challenges in Africa, including endemic Corruption. With the day came reflections on strides made in enforcing citizens’ access to information, with particular regard to the fight against corruption in Uganda.

Article 9 of the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating corruption obliges State Parties to adopt and effectively implement national access to information laws, as a means to fight and prevent corruption. Indeed lack of transparency accelerates corruption in all areas of public life, and poses a serious threat to achievement of Uganda’s development goals. Only an informed citizenry can effectively contribute to national efforts to combat corruption, and hold leaders to the highest levels of transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs.

The government of Uganda is commended for efforts to promote citizen’s access to information through an enabling legal and policy framework, including the Uganda Constitution, Access to Information Act 2005 and accompanying regulations. However enormous challenges still exist requiring urgent redress.

Majority of citizens are still unaware of their right to access information, including the Access to information Act, and those who are, largely do not exercise this right to actively play their role in combating corruption. For instance, despite existence of an interactive government budget website established by the Ministry of Finance, containing detailed information on how public funds are spent, citizens have not fully embraced it to monitor public expenditure.

At a recent launch of Open Budget Survey results for Uganda organized by Uganda Debt Network in partnership with the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, it was established that citizens especially at the grassroots still lack access to information, including budget information to actively monitor local social service delivery projects. That citizens have also largely not utilized the Ask Your Government web portal where information requests can be made to different public bodies.

The culture of secrecy, attributed to the Oath of secrecy in the Public Service has also resulted in many public officials frustrating information requests from members of the public. It is easier to obtain routine information than get responses to complex or sensitive requests, revolving around corruption and public funds expenditure. Similarly, threats to press freedom in the recent past, have negative repercussions on citizens’ right to access timely and accurate information, all of which are essential for citizen participation in their development.

Non-existent resource centers at the local governments is another major challenge and the few that exist are poorly equipped to serve community-based advocacy. Continued noncompliance in display of financial releases at the lower local governments is another obstacle.  With the new Public Finance Management Act 2015 criminalizing failure to display financial releases, citizens should report local governments that are non-compliant so punitive action is accordingly taken.

The Ministry of Finance should publically avail the Citizens Budget, to increase transparency during the budget process to enable citizens actively participate in monitoring public service delivery and hold leaders accountable.

Government should decisively fully implement Access to information legislation as per African Union treaties on the right to information, to which Uganda is a State Party, so as to adhere to the tenants of the right to information and principles of freedom of expression.

The writer is a Civil Society activist
 

Access to information vital for fight against graft

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