During the stakeholder workshop on access to information and open contracting in Nebbi district, participants noted that public officials do not release information requested from them.
However, in shield one of the public officials, Patrick Wamala, senior education officer Nebbi, noted that the nature of contracts they signed do not permit them to reveal the information.
“We have the information that is requested for most times. However, we cannot freely dish it out because of the oath of secrecy that we signed,” he said.
According to the code of conduct of public officials, under the secrecy and confidentiality section, 4.8.1 it states that: “A Public Officer is a custodian of official information that comes into his or her possession in the course of his or her duty in the Public Service. The release of such information must be guided by the laws relating to rights of access to information as prescribed in the Official Secrets Act and other relevant laws that may be enacted from time to time”
Odiya Geofrey, District Information Officer of Nebbi notes that the procedure of accessing public information deserves to be followed or else information requested for will not be granted. He further explains that any citizen requesting for information needs to write to the Chief Administrative officer (CAO) first. Having done that, the requester will be advised on the next steps.
“For any public officer to give out information, standard procedure must be followed. If not the officer has to ensure that his comment doesn’t get on record. Otherwise, he or she will be politically inclined,” he said.
However, the stakeholders also noted that the government’s reaction towards the senior nursing officials of Abim hospital, Santina Adong and Pasca Akello who welcomed Besigye, the FDC presidential candidate in the recently concluded elections to the 200-bed hospital and gave him information about the sorry state of the hospital is another threat to their sharing of information. They dread that such situations can make them lose their jobs.
Benedicto Okwengtho, a journalist with The New Vision, noted that because of such fears among public officials even procedures involved while awarding contracts to bidders are not communicated.
Concluding the workshop, Jimmy Odur, AFIC’s monitoring and evaluation officer encouraged citizens to file information requests so that they can ably participate in the democratic processes of the country and be able to hold their leaders accountable.