"Justice Starts with the Right to Information
& Basic Access for the Public to Jurists"
- Justice Musa Ssekaana
The right of access to information has emerged as one of the most significant rights in modern times. Critical in harnessing open governments that are accountable, transparent and therefore efficient, the right of access to information is also vital in the enhancement and realization of all other rights-be it Civil Political Rights or Economic Social Cultural Rights. Above all, increased access to information promotes trust and public participation in decision making, which is a strong democratic benchmark.
This notwithstanding, the right of access to information is still far from being fully realized and appreciated in many developing countries. In the case of Uganda, it is noteworthy that the country is among the only four African countries that have an access to information legislation. Additionally, the country’s Constitution makes specific provision for the right of access to information under Article 41. (See Uganda Constitution 1995.)
Surprisingly, whereas Uganda appears to be more progressive in making this right fully realized, most provisions of the Access to Information Act remain unimplemented. Cabinet which is charged with the role of approving Regulations to facilitate implementation of the Act is yet to execute this mandate. Although not all the provisions of the law are dependent on the regulations, there is in the first place, a false impression that the implementation of the Access to Information Act wholly depends on the Regulations. Secondly, the greater public who stand to benefit from this information remains ignorant about the existence of this right, which is largely looked at as more of a media right hence low demand from the public. This is so notwithstanding the fact that most custodians of public information are either adamant to release this information or ignorant of their obligation to provide such information.
The most striking challenge to the right of access to information however remains the archaic and inconsistent laws still prevalent on the statute books. These laws act as a cloak for duty holders to unjustifiably withhold information, further limiting access. It is submitted that unless these laws are harmonized with both the Constitution and the Access to Information Act, full access to information will remain a myth.
Excerpt from: AN ANALYSIS OF LAWS INCONSISTENT WITH THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO INFORMATION a study by Human Rights Network (JULY 2010)