Uganda Access Law Faces Many Challenges, Report Says

5 April 2013

Implementation of Uganda’s law on access to information suffers because of weaknesses in the judicial system and a culture of secrecy, among many other factors, according to a detailed World Bank report.

The report was written by Anupama Dokeniya, a World Bank staff member who also wrote a recent World Bank report on the implementation of right to information laws. (See previous FreedomInfo,org report.) The effort included eight case studies of which Uganda was one.

The 1995 Ugandan Constitution guarantees access to information for all citizens. The Access to Information Act (ATIA) was passed in July 2005, and became effective on April 20, 2006.

The report finds that the effectiveness of the law is hampered by the judicial system.

The ATIA provides for direct appeals to the judiciary, first to the Chief Magistrate and subsequently to the High Court. But there are several weaknesses in the judicial system that hamper its ability to operate effectively, including lengthy judicial processes, a lack of independence from political influences, and unaffordable access by citizens.

The appeals record shows that the judiciary lacks the technical capacity to adequately address ATIA issues, the report also says.

In addition, the report says “a significant stumbling block” was the delay in issuing  implementing regulations until 2011.

“The regulations have generally been welcomed by stakeholders and the public and should finally pave the way to wide scale implementation of the ATIA,” according to the report, but it adds some caveats:

However, some concerns have been raised regarding their effectiveness in enhancing ATI, given the potentially high cost, procedural complexities  (including multiplicity of forms and processes), and lack of guidance for implementing agencies, largely leaving the individual information officers with the discretion to interpret the various provisions.

The report notes several areas where additional guidance would be useful. The directorate charged with implementation is underfunded, the report says.

In addition, the existence of “archaic and inconsistent laws,” such as the Official Secrets Act of 1964, “pose major challenges to the ATIA,” according to the report.

The capacity of civil society organizations “is constrained,” concludes the report. It continues:

Activism on the issue is largely restricted to the more prominent NGOs based in the capital. Community monitoring is a challenge because people are uncomfortable with holding authorities and leaders to account. And media outlets are highly polarized, with some having close ties to the regime and others a very antagonistic relationship with it.

The report credits the media with having “played an important role by drawing attention to critical issues regarding ATI, popularizing the ATIA, and petitioning Parliament to pass implementation regulations.”

The Bank report concludes:

A key lesson to be learned from the experience of the ATIA in Uganda is that the successful implementation of ATI reforms requires continued momentum from top political leaders, a build up of capacity, and a progressive expansion of space for civil society action, particularly regarding governance.

The report reviews how the law is written, but also looks at other factors, commenting:

However, it can also be argued that the biggest impediment is not the in the existence of the laws on the statute books but in the attitudes of the public officials set on secrecy who have yet to acclimatize to the new law that requires openness and the sharing of information.

 

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