Over the past ten years of my work on access to information, campaigning for the adoption of access to information laws, training public officials, civil society organisations and journalists and researching, I have learnt that public access to information is as important for public officials as it is for ordinary citizens in various ways.
First, it helps civil servants and public officials receive feedback on issues that require their attention for better service delivery. In furtherance of Section 45 of the ,PPDA Act regarding transparency, accountability and fairness, the Government of Uganda in 2015 started publishing procurement data on the ,Government Procurement Portal (GPP).
However, this data wasn’t being used for its intended purpose and Government hadn’t received any feedback for two years.
Following receipt of a GPP mapping report with recommendations by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) based on ,Open Contracting Data Standards in 2017, Government accepted recommendations to redesign the portal and publish more contracts. This was followed by increased use of the portal by various groups and providing feedback to Government. In response to AFIC’s 2017 ,contracts monitoring report, Government was able to address high incidences of unplanned contracts, disproportionate use of uncompetitive procurement methods, fraud and low levels of disclosure.
Based on examples from ,Malawi and Kenya, I have also learnt that access to information is critical for better service delivery by Government. In Malawi, a contractor paid to supply textbooks to schools in Kasungu District had never delivered on the contract despite being paid. The same was the case in Kenya where for several years girls in Busia County were not receiving sanitary towels paid for by the Government under the 240 Kenya shillings million budget even though money was being regularly disbursed. In both cases, governments acted on citizen feedback to restore much-needed services to their citizens.
The third, probably the most crucial benefit I have learnt is that when citizens have information on government programmes, there is increased trust which helps to participate in government programmes. One of the sticky issues that delay government infrastructure projects and makes them more costly is compensation and associated conflicts.
In one of the rare cases in Uganda, having received full information about the project budget and benefits for the community, people in Wakiso district donated land for the, Namasuba-Ndejje-Kitiko road project without compensation. In addition, people’s feedback on the design of the project was implemented by the government and the contractor due to an increased flow of information and trust.
In most cases, public agencies’ failure to disclose public information is a result of political will and/or capacity of those agencies to disclose the information. Through our work at AFIC and our members across the continent.
In partnership with fesmedia Africa, the regional media programme of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Namibia, Centre for Law and Democracy and fraycollege of Communications, AFIC is working to address one of these challenges by training public officials, civil society leaders and journalists to foster greater implementation of access to information laws by public officials and use of disclosed information by citizens.
Gilbert Sendugwa is the Executive Director of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre