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Public Sector & Governance



The 1995, the Ugandan Constitution incorporated a guarantee of access to information for all citizens. Article 41(2) set requirements for Parliament to enact appropriate RTI legislation that reflected concerns expressed by the progressive Uganda Constitutional Commission regarding human rights abuses of the preceding decades. The Access to Information Act (ATIA) was passed in July 2005, coming into effect on April 20, 2006. Uganda predated its African counterparts by several years in the passage of similar ATI legislation. 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. And an examination of the appeals record reveals a judiciary without the technical capacity to adequately address ATIA issues. A significant stumbling block to the success of the ATIA has been the absence of implementing regulations, particularly important in the Ugandan context to provide officials with the guidance needed to implement the law and institute formal rules for due procedure. Further, archaic and inconsistent laws that remain on the statute books pose major challenges to the ATIA. A prime example is the Official Secrets Act of 1964.

The capacity of CSOs is constrained. 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. But, overall, the media has played an important role by drawing attention to critical issues regarding ATI, popularizing the ATIA, and petitioning Parliament to pass implementation regulations. 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.

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