The Right To information in Uganda: Unclogging The Bottlenecks

By Loyce Kyogabirwe |
The right to information (RTI) is essential for the functioning of any democracy and is a prerequisite for transparency, accountability, gender equality and citizens’ participation in governance processes. However, Uganda faces numerous challenges to realising the right to access information despite having an access to information law. In the course of 2016, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) made various interventions to advance RTI, including holding training events and round table discussions for civil society, the media and government officials.
Uganda’s 2005 right to information law remains little known and largely unimplemented. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) hardly release information voluntarily and tend to be unresponsive to information requests from citizens, due to a culture of secrecy and government bureaucracy that conflict with the law. Conversely, few citizens demand for information as a result of low awareness of their rights and the belief that public officials routinely ignore citizens’ information requests.
At a December 15, 2016 dialogue involving public officials, including information officers from various MDAs, journalists and civil society representatives, it emerged that the government and citizens have not prioritised RTI. “The role of information has been undervalued and sometimes it gets a zero release in [MDA] budgets,” said a public official. Another noted that 11 years after the law was enacted, no MDA has submitted an annual report to parliament on its information disclosure record, including requests received from citizens, as required by the law.
Other challenges prominently cited included under-staffing in MDAs, employing information officers that are unqualified and who often lack mandate to speak on behalf of the public entity, and conflicting laws that make implementing the RTI law difficult.
Journalists shared their experiences of regularly being denied information, often with no reason provided. One journalist noted that informal approaches are the primary means of attaining public information held by the state.
At an earlier training for journalists, which was held on November 23, challenges of public information officers who are either not authorised to release information, or who refer to secrecy oaths not to release information, were prominently cited.
Further, journalists pointed out the cost of accessing information as a hindrance for ordinary citizens. “If it is my right to access information then why am I paying for it?” asked Regina Nassanga of Mama FM. According to the law, a fee of UGX 20 000 (Just over US$ 5) is required when making a formal request at an MDA office.
Despite these obstacles, there are some indications that things could get better. Each government department is now required to have an information officer, and a few public bodies are beginning to implement the government’s 2013 Communications Strategy, although they have been unable to make any significant increase to budget allocations for the information function.
Civil society representatives pointed out additional concerns including the lack of deliberate action to promote RTI particularity for women and people with disabilities. Moreen Nambalirwa from the National Union of Women with Disabilities noted that when information is disseminated to the public via television and radios, people with visual and hearing impairments miss out. She also stated that despite the directive from the Uganda Communications Commission that all TV stations should have a sign language interpretation during some news broadcasts, none of the more than 10 local TV stations have done so, further contributing to the exclusion and limited participation by PWDs in governance processes.
The convenings were organised by CIPESA and provided a space for civil society, public officials and journalists to share their experiences, learn from one another, and suggest possible ways to improve access to information.

Local leaders in Kasese District Trained in e-Governance

This month, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the E-Society Resource Centre Kasese trained local leaders in Kasese district in the use of ICTs for improved governance and service delivery. During the March 20-21 2014 workshop, local leaders of the western Uganda district were also trained in using ICTs for information sharing and promoting citizen participation.
Speaking at the workshop, District Information Officer John Thawite urged local leaders to break away from the culture of secrecy and work in accordance with the 2005 Uganda Access to Information Act. “Meaningful participation in democratic processes requires informed participants hence the need for increased access to information,” he said.
However, Mr. Thawite noted some challenges to better access to information: poor facilitation for information officers, lack of ICT tools to process information requests, the Official Secrets Act of 1964 which bars public servants from releasing certain information, and poor coordination of information systems between departments.
During introductory sessions, participants were introduced to the basic elements of computer use, the internet and information security. Later, they were introduced to the concept of e-governance and its role in improving service delivery. The training included an interaction with the district e-government tools such as the district portal (, district discussion group (, E-library for district e-resources ( and the district news portal (
The workshop also sought to enhance the leaders’ capability to engage with citizens through social media, and illustrated how this engagement could contribute to improved services delivery. According to, Facebook, Twitter, blog post and youtube are among the top ten accessed websites in Uganda and their potential in catalysing citizen participation in governance was emphasised.
Leaders were further encouraged to use the Rwenzururu facebook group ( created in 2012 by community members in Kasese during a CIPESA citizen journalism training to discuss prevailing issues in the region..
Participants welcomed the training with one saying that he would henceforth be able to get access more information about various operations of the government through the various e-governance platforms shared. Another participant asked the e-society Resource Centre to work with heads of departments so that they always send their budgets, minutes of meetings, work plans and other communication to the e-platforms.
CIPESA has since 2011 spearheaded the iParticipate Uganda project. Through grassroots based ICT access centres in Eastern, Western and Northern Uganda, CIPESA creates awareness and builds the capacity and skills of citizens, media and local government to leverage ICTs to catalyse civic participation, democracy monitoring and access to information in Uganda. The E-society Resource Center Kasese is CIPESA’s western region partner. The centre provides support, promotes ICT literacy and the use of ICT for transparency in the Kasese local government.
Article complied by Mr. Samuel Mumbere – E-Society Resource Centre Kasese and Ms. Lillian Nalwoga – CIPESA 

Access to Information in Uganda: Practice Should Match Policy

By Wairagala Wakabi – CIPESA Research Associate
This paper investigates the Uganda Government’s policies and practice with regard to citizens’ access to public domain information. In a nutshell, whereas the policy environment is largely favourable, the practice greatly hampers actual access to the public domain information.
Over the last few years, the Uganda Government has placed increasing attention to ICT, creating a policy environment that is largely favourable to ICT service provision and proliferation. In 2003, Uganda adopted a national ICT policy, a draft revision of which was finalised by the Ministry of ICT in August 2008.
The formation of this ministry in 2006 offered recognition to ICT as a fully fledged sector, and was expected to catalyse the uptake of ICT in the country. But the country has not done equally well in the area of raising the public’s access to governmental information, or in the wider area of promoting e-Government.
One of the objectives of Uganda’s National ICT Policy is “to facilitate the broadest possible access to public domain information.” The policy is designed to support the attainment of this objective through several strategies, including conducting research to establish citizens’ information needs and the barriers to information use, and developing measures to overcome these barriers; and increasing accessibility to government information and ensuring uniform practices in its distribution.
The other strategies stipulated in the policy are utilising the local administrative council system to facilitate the flow of information from the grassroots to the centre and the other way round; and initiating an e-government programme to digitise public domain information and make it available through Internet websites, public library systems and other appropriate dissemination media.
It is now widely accepted that it takes more than infrastructure and technology to create meaningful access to and utilisation of ICT. Accordingly, there is a clear realisation in Uganda’s ICT policy framework that access to information in the public domain and availability of relevant and usable content constitute a critical part of the ICT equation. In this paper, “public domain information” refers to information generated especially by public institutions, which is necessary for members of the public to have in order to function as competent citizens.
Indeed, the thinking in the Uganda ICT policy in this regard is also embodied in the Tunis Agenda on the Information Society adopted in November 2005, which notes that a lot of effort had been spent in Africa on creating ICT enabling infrastructure but little attention has been invested in creating content and making it accessible to the wider public.
The need for greater access to and usage of public domain information is hence seen as a crucial link in empowering citizens and in having ICT meaningfully contributing to development and better governance.
Uganda’s desire to boost access to public domain information is also in line with the resolution adopted in 1997 by a UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) general assembly. That resolution called for action “to facilitate access to information in the public domain with the aim of building up a general electronic repository of all information of a public nature.”
Since then, interest in the role of raising access to and use of public information has grown, and it is widely considered that one of the greatest values associated with placing governmental information in the public domain is transparency of governance and the promotion of democratic ideals (UNESCO 2004; Basu 2004).
According to the UNESCO resolution, “open and unrestricted dissemination of public information also enhances public health and safety, and the general social welfare, as citizens become better able to make informed decisions about their daily life, their environment, and their future”.
It was therefore deemed important to compare Uganda’s policies to the practice as far as encouraging access to public domain information was concerned. In a nutshell, it was found that there was a wide mismatch between the policies and the practice.
Around the world, the Australian Government is among those who have taken the lead in recognising the need for greater openness and transparency. In a guide to reforms on the Freedom of Information Act of 1992, the Government affirms that freedom of information represents the pinnacle of the citizens’ right to know.
It adds: “Information held by the Government is a national resource and should be managed in the public interest. Access to government information increases public participation, and leads to increased scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of government activity” (Faulkner J. 2009).
Besides being outlined in Uganda’s National ICT Policy, the need to “facilitate the broadest possible access to public domain information” is also articulated in the country’s telecoms sector policy review (UCC 2008).
In another move aimed at giving citizens greater access to information, in 2005 Parliament passed the Access to Information Act. This law was introduced to give effect to the constitutional right to information. The Act sets the time limit in which a citizen should get information from a state agency. But it took 10 years for Parliament to enact this law since the passing of the Constitutional provision on access to information.
In fact, the passing of the law by Parliament followed intense lobbying by civil society organisations. Up to now, however, Uganda’s Government has been reluctant to implement the access to information law, and some observers have referred to it as “a catalogue of exceptions” owing to the many types of information which the law says public officials may not give to citizens.
Uganda’s Government has, however, taken positive steps towards setting up websites of various ministries, parastatals and local bodies. On the downside, in most cases the websites simply offer information related to what the department does or what services it offers; the websites do not in fact offer these services, nor is the information they hold informative enough. A few websites provide user feedback forms, but that often is as far as the interactivity goes.
An audit of governmental websites notes that whereas one of the ultimate goals of e-Government is to provide public services online, the websites analysed were found largely wanting in the content category of online service. It adds: “There would be greater efficiency in the delivery of public services if, for instance, government databases, documents, and applications for all sorts of licenses were available online to be accessed or downloaded by those interested” (Mwesige et al. 2005).” That was not the case for the greater majority of websites studied.
A Government-sanctioned assessment had earlier indicated that “almost all ministries, departments and local governments lack the infrastructure required to deliver anything apart from rudimentary e-Government services” and that this limited efforts to offer information and services to citizens.
The contribution of ICT to a country’s socio-economic development ultimately depends on its value as a knowledge resource. Indeed, the idea of a “knowledge society” has to do with citizens’ competence as users of information in order to improve their economic competitiveness, global connectedness, social awareness, efficiency in managing daily lives, among other things. It could be said therefore that the Uganda Government’s reluctance to act on its policies is undermining its citizens’ empowerment to harness the benefits of the Information Society.
It is widely recognised that increasing public domain information, and facilitating universal and equitable access to that information, is fundamental to human well-being and to addressing the digital divide between the information rich and the information poor (Dada, D. 2006). Despite the current state of limited access to and use of public domain information, new legislation and policies such as the access to information law and the national ICT policy have given legal recognition to the citizens’ need for and right to demand access to information in the public domain.
Basu (2004) argues that for e-Government to work in Africa, governments should be willing to decentralise responsibilities and processes, and to start using electronic means of communicating and delivering services. Citizens could then contact their leaders and public servants through website where all forms, legislation, news and other information is made available. In effect, governments would serve their citizens better and save costs by making internal operations more efficient, cutting down the complex and over-stretched bureaucratic system (Heeks R. 2006; Gronlund, A. 2007).
Uganda is currently in the process of revising its ICT policy and e-Government strategy, and hopefully these will be designed and implemented more robustly to improve citizens’ access to public information. In the meantime, it could be concluded that it requires more than passing policies and regulations for citizens to have better access to information.
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