Government Urged to Share Accurate and Timely Information during Crises

On Monday, 28th September, 2020, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) convened a high level dialogue to commemorate the inaugural International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI).  

The various speakers underscored the importance of providing accurate and timely information in responding to crises such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.

In her remarks, The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Rosa Malango, drew attention to the need for information provision to the end beneficiaries, to enable them be armed to hold their leaders accountable, and in turn be guaranteed of safety during the COVID-19 crisis.

 “It’s important to recognize that as we celebrate this day, there are millions of people - women, youth, people with disabilities - who struggle every day to access basic information important for their survival. With COVID-19, access to public information has become critical as it contributes to both preventing the spread and mitigating the impact,” she said.

The Head of Facility at the DGF, Nicole Bjerler, reiterated the need for timely access to reliable information for all, noting that any delay is disastrous for everyone- leaders, professionals and ordinary citizens alike.

“Access to information is a vital pathway for sustainable development especially across the continent of Africa. And as such, was recognised as critical in the United Nations Development Framework under SDG 16.10.2. Yet, barriers to information remain an obstacle to millions of people: especially women, people with disabilities, children and marginalised communities which prevents them from participating in governance processes," she said.

UNESCO’s Regional Director for Eastern Office, Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, urged state institutions to make information provision a priority by enacting Access to Information (ATI) laws, and continuously disclosing vital information to citizens, who in time of crises are looking for trust, reassurance, and clarity.

“We reiterate our call on governments to enact and fully implement the Right to Access to Information laws and demonstrate their unique value during times of crisis,” Ndong-Jatta said.

AFIC’s Executive Director, Gilbert Ssendugwa, said that the need to utilise the existing ATI laws to ensure information provision and access for all is key. Referring to AFIC’s recent shadow report to Uganda’s Parliament on the status of implementation of Uganda’s ATI Act, he noted that the law was largely not being implemented by Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

“As we commemorate IDUAI today, AFIC and its members reiterate that without public access to information, the war against COVID-19 and other crises will take longer and be more costly,” he cautioned.

In response to the above calls and concerns, the Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Information, Communication, Technology and National Guidance, Hon. Paul Amoru, reassured participants that he will work with fellow Members of Parliament to ensure that the existing ATI laws are implemented by Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

At the event, AFIC launched a report entitled: “Local Government Response in the Fight Against COVID-19: A case of selected districts in Uganda”. The report culminated from a study that assessed the implementation of guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19.