Progress, Weaknesses Seen in Ugandan FOI Law Implementation

23 May 2016

Below is the concluding chapter from the April 2016 report by the Carter Center on its examination of selected agencies in Uganda using the Center’s Access to Information Legislation Implementation Assessment Tool, which is described in the report.

Overall the findings of the Implementation Assessment Tool reveal that as compared to the initial seven ministries assessed as part of the piloting of the tool in 2013 and 2014, the five new ministries assessed in 2015 are generally better placed to receive and process access to information requests.

This development appears to be attributable to the adoption of the Government of Uganda Communications Strategy that requires all government ministries/agencies to improve on their communication by among other things appointing communication officers and setting up the necessary infrastructure. Secondly, following adoption of the strategy, the Ministry of information has deepened its engagement with communication officers in the different ministries.

In as far as the receiving and responding to information requests is concerned, in practice this role is exercised by the communications officers in all ministries assessed. While under the law the role of information officer is vested in the chief executive officer of the agency and at ministry level this would be the permanent secretary, permanent secretaries carry a great burden of other equally pressing administrative duties and are not in position to effectively fulfill this role. For this reason they have informally delegated this duty to communication officers. The challenge, however, remains that the PSs continue to decide on those requests that touch on sensitive matters and as the delegation of duties is informal it is not easy to hold communication officers responsible for failure to fulfill ATI obligations under the law.

The above progress notwithstanding, it is clear that almost all ministries assessed they are yet to implement the law fully. Proactive disclosure and records keeping functions are still not properly implemented in all the five ministries considered, and although all of these ministries have fully functional websites, most of the documents proactively disclosed on line are rather general and do not provide the wide range of documents considered in the law or necessary for the citizenry. Moreover, there is a conflation of duties in regard to receiving and responding to information requests on one hand and the proactive disclosure function. This greatly restricts performance of both functions, particularly as the public servants mandated with the responsibilities rarely have sufficient training to meet these specialized duties.

Finally, additional emphasis on monitoring agency implementation efforts and progress is needed. The ministries assessed rarely included their access to information duties in internal oversight mechanisms, and had no developed means of capturing statistics related to discharge of their ATI duties. This limits the ministry’s ability to perfect their implementation/operationalization of the law and inhibits citizens from monitoring government’s efforts to assure the full functioning the Act.

 

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