The recently launched government online platform, the Director of Harvest Uganda, a non government organization in Kawempe Division, Kampala district, catering for the invalids and the elderly told this newspaper that the new arrangement will aid officials in government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to collude in concealing information pinning them much as it is in public interest.
“Some government officials are notorious for not releasing information especially when they are aware of some improprieties to cover up. This arrangement will make it even worse since the law gives them a long period of up to 21 days within which they can censure any information asked of them before they can release it.” Mugalaasi said.
In addition, some journalists have expressed skepticism that MDAs will take advantage of the 21 days time- frame provision within the Access to Information (ATI) Act to frustrate efforts to have some stories in their disfavor published, especially those which are by their nature easily over taken by events.
“They (referring to MDA officials) well know that some journalists give up pursuing stories after being tossed around for days, mindful of the fact that the law cannot catch them until they can exceed 21 days, ” said a journalist on condition of anonymity.
The Daily Monitor’s Mukiibi Serunjogi was upbeat about the prospect of the new information tool explaining that it would ease access to information from MDA’s especially if all of them will eventually subscribe to the platform. Only 70 of the 120 MDAs have so far signed up.
“In fact we have been late in doing this. It is one of the best projects that have happened in this era,” Mukiibi said.
The Ask your government (AYG) platform as it is officially called was introduced to journalists last week during a training workshop organized by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in Ntinda following an earlier launch by the office of the Prime Minister (OPM) through the Ministry of information and National Guidance last August.
The project is an initiative of the OPM in partnership with CIPESA and the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) seeking to promote Ugandan citizens’ right to information in support of transparency, accountability and good governance
CIPESA’s Communications consultant Juliet Nanfuka said the Porto would go a long way in aiding the press, civil society and the general public in accessing information at the least cost and inconvenience.
“While Uganda currently has an internet reach of 20% of the population, this initiative will work alongside civil society organisations to ensure that digitally under-represented citizens including people living in rural areas and women can make information requests through the platform. Its wider target audience also includes general citizens with targeted efforts geared at journalists, researchers, university lecturers, and students.”
The AYG portal allows citizens to directly send requests for information to information officers in Government departments, ministries and agencies. Responses to the information requests are relayed directly to the email address of the person who makes the requests and are also publicly displayed on the portal.