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AFIC and Partners Launch a Campaign to Commemorate the International Day For Universal Access to Information 2021.

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and partners- the Office of United Nations High Commissioner, UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, the African Union Commission, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and Twaweza East Africa have today, the 14th of September 2021 launched The Right to Know campaign in commemoration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) 2021 at Uganda Media Centre in Kampala, Uganda. The theme for this year’s commemoration as announced by UNESCO is, “The Right to Know—Building Back Better with Access to Information’’

Hon. Kabbyanga Geofrey, the Minister of State for National Guidance, officially launched the Right to Know campaign. In his remarks, he acknowledged that the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance is pleased to be part of the launch of the campaign with AFIC and partners; because Access to Information is central to their work on promoting human rights, accountability, participatory democracy and inclusive development.

“The commemoration will highlight the significance of having constitutional,statutory and policy guarantees for public access to information and the need to ensure its implementation to build back better beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

Article 41 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda gives every citizen the right to access information held by the government. The same article mandates parliament to make laws prescribing procedures for obtaining access to information. Therefore, to this effect, the government has adopted the Access to Information Act in 2005 and later the Access to Information Regulations in 2011. This means that every Ugandan has a constitutional right to access information held by any institution of government.” Hon. Kabbyanga Godfrey, Minister of State for National Guidance.  

I commend the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, UNESCO, the Africa Freedom of Information (AFIC), and Twaweza East Africa for the partnership with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [in Uganda] for organizing this launch on the theme: The Right to Know: Building Back Better with Access to Information.” Grace Kelly, the UN OHCHR Deputy Country Representative

On 6th May 2021, Twaweza Uganda and Africa Freedom of Information Centre, in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, officially launched the Access to Information Guide for Civil Servants. This guide covers aspects of benefits of ATI, what information can be requested and what is exempt, and how civil servants should respond to information requests, among others.

The 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on October 15, 2019, adopted a resolution proclaiming September 28th as the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). We organized the first Africa Regional commemoration of the IDUAI through a virtual and in-person high-level dialogue on September 28th 2020 in Kampala and the 2021 edition of IDUAI will be the second commemoration since its proclamation by the UNGA.

The theme for this year’s commemoration as announced by UNESCO is, “The Right to Know—Building Back Better with Access to Information’’

This theme is very relevant for this year in several respects. First, when the Covid-19 pandemic is raving lives and wreaking havoc across Africa and around the world, we need to build back and prevent new waves by enabling women, men, youth and people with disabilities understand they do and don’ts of behaviors essential to prevent infections. Second, there is a need to ensure that patients, families and communities have information they need for effective care for the sick as well as combating stigma and discrimination. The pandemic necessitated the need for governments to institute measures for timely procurement of distribution of logistics, equipment and materials, opening the way for potential corruption, inefficiency and abuse of resources donated and/or appropriated to combat the pandemic, increasing adverse effects on individuals, families, communities and society. Access to information is critical for building back and creating resilience for an effective and sustainable response.

“Lack of timely access to information has created a fertile ground in which misinformation on Covid-19 spreads faster than the pandemic itself. It is not a secret that across Africa and around the world, misinformation related to Covid-19 vaccination has significantly undermined vaccination campaigns, exposing millions to infections and deaths while costly and scarce vaccines go to waste because of their expiration before use.

Lack of public access to information has created a mistrust of governments and key people at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. This has made the fight against the pandemic more costly, unnecessarily longer and devastating.” Gilbert Sendugwa, Executive Director- Africa Freedom of Information Centre

Hon. Meddie B. Mulumba, a Commissioner with the Uganda Human Rights Commission also emphasized the importance of access to information. Access to information is critical for enabling citizens to exercise their voice, to effectively monitor and hold their leaders to account and enter into an informed dialogue about decisions that affect their lives. 

It is seen as vital for empowering all citizens, including the vulnerable and excluded people, to claim their border rights and entitlements. Hon. Meddie B.Mulumba, Commissioner, Uganda Human Rights Commission.

“Without a free exchange of information, people cannot be fully aware of what is going on around them and so cannot meaningfully participate in their communities. The lack of citizens’ access to information continues to hamper the realization of sustainable development in Africa. Corruption and inefficiency denies millions of women, men, youth, children and people with disabilities basic services and rights especially health, education and food security; their participation in public decision-making including planning, budgeting and elections is uninformed while their ability to hold official accountable is untenable without information.” Grace Pelly, the UN OHCHR Deputy Country Representative.

The potential to good governance of access to information lies in both the willingness of government to be transparent as well as the ability of citizens to use this information of which may be constrained in low-capacity settings.

The UN OHCHR expressed their solidarity with all stakeholders and renewing their commitment to work the Government, development partners, civil society and media organizations and media practitioners towards a safe working environment for journalists.

AFIC believes that the private sector will need timely access to information to make critical decisions to rebuild their business and help in the post Covid-19 recovery. This will help governments create jobs for youth and generate taxes to finance social services including overstretched health sector. Citizens will need proper access to information to rebuild their trust in governments and not question or doubt every intention of government, while Government leaders will themselves need timely access to information to make informed decisions necessary to ensure that no one is left behind as everyone strives to rebuild their lives. Lack of access to information will increase the inequality gap.

AFIC therefore recommends that:

  1. In Uganda, Parliament should urgently require all ministers to comply with Section 43 of the Access to Information Act regarding annual reporting to Parliament, allocate budget for ATIA implementation by all ministries departments and departments and to amend the Access to Information Act in line with Model on Access to Information for African Union member states to include relevant private bodies within disclosure, reduce statutory timelines within which to respond to information requests and strengthen oversight through the creation of an Independent Information Commission.
  2. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies to prioritise establishment and operationalization of systems and procedures for practice disclosure and effective response to information requests
  3. The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to prioritise support for MDAs for them to effectively implement the Access to Information Act
  4. The African Union, UNESCO and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to support the Government of Uganda and other African governments to adopt and effectively implement respective national access to information laws.
  5. Civil society organizations to mainstream ATI in their strategies and to monitor the extent to which governments actualize their obligations for public access to information.
  6. Other African countries to adopt and/or effectively implement access to information laws in line with six treaties of the African Union.

Over the next two weeks we will hold a series of events including today’s press conference, social media events, access to information training for journalists and a regional in person and virtual dialogue in which we will deliberate on the strategies for the realization public access to information in the context of SDG 16.10.2.