“ACCESS TO INFORMATION IN TIMES OF CRISIS”
Kampala, September 25, 2020
On 15th October 2019, the 74th UN General Assembly (UNGA) proclaimed 28th September as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. This year, therefore, marks the first commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information since its adoption by the UN General Assembly last year.
The right of Access to Information has long been recognized by International and Regional Human Rights Instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Six treaties of of the African Union including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights provides that:
“Every individual shall have the right to receive information and the right to express and disseminate his/her opinions within the law.”
Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the plan of action adopted by all 193 United Nations (UN) Member States to protect the planet and improve the lives and prospects of everyone, recognizes public Access to Information within Goal 16 that covers the need to promote peaceful and inclusive societies (target 16.10.2).
UNESCO is the UN-designated agency tasked to monitor progress in this area, through indicator 16.10.2 on the number of countries that adopt and implement constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to Information.
The 2020 edition of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) under the theme: “Access to Information in times of crisis” will not only be the first commemoration of the International Day since its proclamation at UN level, but it also falls at a time when the world is battling COVID-19.
The global pandemic has illustrated the significance of the right of Access to Information as it has been the most potent weapon in mitigating the risks caused by the crisis.
Citizens need to access information on the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health Guidelines. They need to know how corona virus is spread and how they can avoid being infected. They need information on prevention measures and where they can go for assistance when in doubt. They need information on key contacts and even those who have been confirmed to be infected and their contacts. Covid-19 patients in need information on do and don’ts. Access to information is critical to fight stigma associated with Covid-19.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has also pushed governments to embark on large scale emergency procurements testing kits medical supplies and logistics, masks, food and other necessities to prevent or manage infections and mitigate economic and social impacts of the pandemic. This has necessitated relaxing procedures for oversight, increasing the risk for corruption in public procurement.
We commend the Governments of Uganda and Nigeria for issuing Guidelines for Emergency Procurements with transparency and accountability as core principles of the Guidelines. We also appreciate the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund for requiring that information about procurements under their Covid-19 support be disclosed to citizens. We are deeply concerned however, that African governments including Malawi, Uganda, Ghana and Nigeria are yet to fully disclose this information.
While noting that 25 African countries have adopted respective national access to information laws, we are concerned that 30 African Union Member States are yet to do, a lack of commitment to the realization of SDG 16.102 and violating six African Union treaties that guarantee the right to information.
AFIC’s recent shadow report to Parliament on the status of implementation of Uganda’s Access to Information Act found that it was largely not being implemented by Ministries, Departments and Agencies with denial to grant access to information being done routinely while none of the ministers was complying with obligation to report Parliament.
As we commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information ON Monday September 28, 2020, Africa Freedom of Information Centre, Transparency International Uganda and Twaweza remand African Governments that access to information is critical in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
We, therefore, call upon every African governments to:
- Adopt and implement effectively implement access to Information in line with Model Law on Access to Information for African Union Member States adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2013.
- Actively undertake awareness of citizens of their right to information and how they can exercise it under the law
- Adopt and effectively implement measures to promote transparency of Covid-19 procurements and access to information on Covid-19 response in general
On behalf of the Civil Society Organizations
- Africa Freedom of Information Centre
- Transparency International Uganda
- Twaweza Uganda