Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Organizations promoting access to information and journalists have asked government to prevail over Public offices charging exorbitantly for access of information in Public interest.
The Access to information Act provides that information should be mandatorily disclosed in Public interest at no fee. Although the act also provides for fees for the information duplication for instance 0.5 of currency point per hour of recording which is 100 shillings, and 50 shillings for A4 size printing which is the standard letter size paper.
However, some agencies have charged over between 500,000 shillings to 3 million shillings depending on the information and details asked for even when it does not require printing.
Suzan Agwang, the Legal and Research officer of the African Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) says that several times some organizations are quick to send invoices to journalists and people seeking information and this supersedes the key purpose that the act was created.
She made the statements during a presentation at the end of a training of journalists on the right to know in commemoration of the International Day of Universal Access to information organized by Twaweza and AFIC at Hotel Africana on Friday. The day is internationally celebrated on 28th September.
She says for instance sometimes getting data from the National Medical Stores (NMS) and the Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) among others has been a challenge because they ask for millions of shillings despite most of the information requests even being digital.
Ajwang also asked Government to come up with regulations to compel non public entities to provide information on public interest.
Cathy Ageno from the Editors Guild says that Government should also address the issue of wide exemptions under which journalists cannot access information, especially on issues of national security among others. She says this exemption to information in the Access to information act is it self and impediment.
Meanwhile, Gilbert Sendugwa, the Executive Director AFIC says that it is so sad that journalists are among the group of Ugandans who least ask for information from Government agencies. He says at the advent of fake news and disinformation during COVID-19, access to information becomes crucial.
Peter Okello Jabweri of the Uganda Media Council says that public servants and civil servants still have the mentality of secrecy, and some people still have impunity when it comes to official information. He says this should change in this era. He says in some countries, any citizen can easily ask Government to disclose.
Apolo Kakaire from the African Centre for Media Excellence says that newsrooms could do their part of submitting requests for information, and where the information Is denied, they should appeal and even litigate.
On his part, the Minister of State for ICT and National Guidance in charge of National Guidance Godfrey Kabbyanga Baluku said that he will engage entities that are charging high amounts of money to provide information.
He however says that sometimes the media houses have run with fake news in the mainstream media which should be avoided. On exemptions for purposes such as security, he says that journalists should know that security is paramount information deemed unfit for public consumption should not be given to the press.
He says access to information should be free and even photocopying should not exceed 20,000 shillings which is 1 currency point.