KAMPALA – Public servants (both elected and appointed) have limited knowledge of the Access to Information Act, a new Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey on Civil servants’ views on access to information and citizen participation has said.
The survey adds that only one public officer had a copy of Access to Information, some claimed they had seen a copy on the internet while the majority had never read it.
“And when probed about the Regulations that operationalized the law, an overwhelming majority reported that they had never heard of the Regulations nor read them” reads the report released recently by Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey, a nationally-representative, high-frequency mobile phone panel survey of public opinion and citizens’ experiences.
This data comes from 1,796 respondents in the Sauti za Wananchi panel, collected between September 20 and October 10, 2019.
On minister’s annual report to Parliament, the report says that minister has not complied with the requirement of reporting annually to Parliament on implementation of the access to information act.
“And at local government level, Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) and Sub-County Chiefs indicate that there isn’t a culture of routine reporting on access to information issues to local equivalents of Parliament, namely, the District Councils and Sub-County Councils,” adds the report in part.
Access to information is the ability for an individual to seek, receive and impart information effectively and this sometimes includes “scientific, indigenous and traditional knowledge; freedom of information building of open knowledge resources, including open Internet and open standards and open access and availability of data.
This Act empowers citizens to scrutinize government decisions and hold public officials accountable while it is important that citizens should seek information, demand accountability from public officers and participate in decision making processes, it is also essential that public officials provide opportunities for citizens to participate and respond.
The report says that Politicians disclose and announce actively, civil servants use formal channels informally, public officials especially the politicians; tend to announce government programs in their day-to-day interactions with voter-citizens.
“And civil servants (who often invoke the Official Secrets Act) prefer to use formal channels of information sharing only which leaves many citizens who have not gone to school out since they don’t understand it,” adds the report in part.
Ms Marie Nanyanzi, the programme manager at Sauti za Wananchi at Twaweza said the right to information is vital for preventing corruption in society.
She explained that when citizens can access key facts and data from governments, it is more difficult to hide abuses of power and other illegal activities – governments can be held accountable.
“Access to information also empowers citizens by informing their voting, giving them a chance to speak out against injustice and ensuring they know their rights,” said Ms Nanyanzi at the presentation of the report.
This comes as the international Universal Day for Access to Information is approaching- September 28 and is now 15 years since Uganda adopted the Access to Information Act (2005).
The data from Twaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey says for civil servants, barriers to greater citizen participation are knowledge-driven and that according to feedback from public officials, the major obstacles to the implementation of the access to information act and to encouraging citizen participation are about knowledge.
The report reveals further that no senior civil servant or politician in local government had a copy of the access to information law, many report not having heard of the regulations for the law and that civil servants have never been trained on the law and its implications for how they work.
“And in addition they do not receive general training on taking up a post and there is no in service training, many are learning on the job, meaning existing practices and norms get passed on despite new laws and procedures,” reads the report.
TheTwaweza’s Sauti za Wananchi survey also reveals that citizens are not also aware that they neither have the right to government information nor do they know where or how to get this information and that there are no formal or easy means for them to do so.
The report concludes that the value of access to information is recognised around the world that there are many countries where, both on paper and in practice, the right to information is a reality.