A survey conducted by Twaweza has revealed that civil servants have little or no knowledge about the Access to Information Act and how to implement it.
According to the report, 2020, the year preceding the general election, recorded an acute drop in information shared by public officials.
The survey showed the demand for information from the citizens was high, but only half the requests were granted.
The findings from different research studies by Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and Twaweza found that all civil servants agreed that as a matter of principle citizens have the right to access government(held information).
“Most public officials don’t know they are legally obliged to release information. Civil servants reported that they have not been given any training or guidance on access to information,”the survey further revealed.
AFIC found that out of 4,059 known information requests, less than one in ten (9%) were even partially successful and most (81%) were awaiting a response well past the legal 21-day limit for state bodies to respond.
The findings stated that other important aspects of the law were not being followed in particular, no government body had met the requirement (in Section 43 of the ATI Act) to submit an annual report to parliament detailing ATI requests received and responses given.
According to the new data collected by Twaweza on citizens’ experiences and perspectives on access to information from 1,500 respondents between October and December 2020, eight out of ten citizens (83%) sought information from at least one public institution in the previous three months, same as in 2019 (84%).
“Information requests, especially requests from public health facilities (51% of them), are largely for information about services (such as opening hours or medical advice),”the findings showed.
According to the findings, 54% of all reported requests for information about resources (staffing, budgets, equipment, etc.) were granted the information being sought, which is less than the three out of four such requests (75%) in 2019.
The senior programme officer, Twaweza Uganda, Marie Nanyanzi said: “This means a lot of people will not pursue their access to specific information if they are turned away from a public office.The research that we have conducted is to know the state of access to information in Uganda.”
Across a range of different government offices and different types of information being requested, citizens have less confidence in 2020 that their requests would be successful than in previous years, according to the findings.
As a result, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and Twaweza have come together to produce and launch an access to information guide for civil servants to enable them to meet their legal obligations under the Access to Information Act.
The Access to Information Guide for civil servants aims to unlock the challenges to access to information for all Ugandans to promote inclusivity, transparency, accountability and good governance.
Nyanzi explained that the trend that they have seen so far is that most Ugandans when they to go to the public office to seek information, they are not given that information they are looking for.
Violet Alinda, Twaweza Uganda Country lead and director of Voice and Participation, said they are delighted to be involved in preparing the guide for civil servants which is an important step in unlocking citizens’ right to access government information.