The Executive Director, HIM, shares their ATI journey in Uganda

Africa Freedom of Information Centre and the Hub for Investigative Media conducted an assessment on the status of implementation of the Access to Information Act 2005 in Uganda. A shadow report was presented to the Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament of the Republic of Uganda. This report examines current progress in implementation of Uganda’s Access to Information Act and the critical impediments for successful implementation after more than a decade of its passing in 2005.

Mr. Edward Ronald Sekyewa, the Executive Director of the Hub for Investigative Media shares experiences with the implementation of ATI in Uganda.

In 2005 the Access to Information Act was enacted to promote the right to access information, promote efficient, effective, transparent and accountable governance and to enable the public to effectively access and participate in decisions that affect them as citizens of the country. The regulations were put in place in 2011. Do you think the ATI Act has lived up to its purpose of promoting the right to information?

There are still many gaps that need to be addressed for ATI to live up to its purpose. Most important of these is ensuring that people are aware of the existence of this law so that they start using it. I strongly believe that with more Ugandans applying their ATI knowledge, it will be easier to justify changes within the law that seem to impede the full implementation of Access to Information.

What has been your experience in response to information requests?

My personal experience is two-sided. On one hand, I am happy that my organization has been carrying out ATI awareness drives for some years and people that we have engaged have fully embraced the message, though there are some frustrations especially when it comes to providing information from the duty-bearers. On the other hand, it has been quite frustrating when filing Information Requests to the different MDA’s in the country mainly lack the proper understanding of the ATI provisions from the duty-bearers’ perspective. It has even been more frustrating when seeking redress from the courts of law where some of my ATI cases are still pending after 7 years of filing the suits. There is a need to engage the judges for as long as they are still handling ATI cases, otherwise establishing ATI Tribunals seems the way to go.

What is your take on the complaints mechanism provided for in the law?

The complaints mechanism needs to be reformed as elaborated above. As it is now, the courts which are the first point of reference in case of denial of information are too bureaucratic, slow and expensive for ordinary citizens to seek justice, especially in cases where information is needed to make quick decisions. As stated above, I have ATI cases that have not yet been handled in court yet the suits were filed 7 years ago. This can be so frustrating.

What are your recommendations towards improving ATI Implementation in Uganda?

The most important aspect here is creating universal coverage in terms of awareness of the ATI provisions in Uganda. Proper implementation of ATI has the ability to provide answers to not only pressing issues to citizens but also promoting good governance which the Ugandan government subscribes to. On the duty-bearers’ side, it is important that parliament plays its role that requires all Accounting Officers of all MDA’s to annually report to parliament on how they have implemented the ATI law. It’s also important that the government puts in place ATI Tribunals to handle ATI cases to save citizens the tedious and expensive court processes while seeking redress.

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