Seven years after Parliament enacted the Access to Information Act, the government is still uncomfortable releasing certain bits of information to the media, denying the public the right to know how they are governed.
This was the general feeling at a luncheon organised by Human Rights Network (HURINET)-Uganda yesterday at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala. The luncheon brought together civil society organisations, government officials and journalists. Prof Frederick Juuko, an expert on media law, said it was not accidental that government had retained a number of colonial laws on its books that make it difficult for the public to access information. Such laws as the Secrecy Act bar public servants from revealing information.
"There is a deeply entrenched culture of secrecy in our country and this has not only affected the operations of the media, but also everyone. You remember that government had refused Parliament to access the oil agreements?" Jjuuko said.
He also blamed the culture of secrecy on the country's history of militarism, which he said subordinates all people's rights to "the security of the country". He said a lot of information is withheld under the pretext that it will jeopardise national security.
"No government can be held accountable unless citizens know what it is doing," Jjuuko said.
Bernard Tabaire of the Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) said it was high time journalists challenged government to explain the relevance of laws and international conventions it assents to when it cannot uphold them.
"We just go through the motions on a lot of things. There has to be some level of seriousness," Tabaire said.
Moses Watasa, commissioner for information in the Office of the Prime Minister, said contrary to perception, there was nothing government wanted to hide from the public.
"For the last four months, we have been moving from ministry to ministry, impressing upon them the importance of giving out information, and very soon, each ministry will have a communication unit manned by four information officers," Watasa revealed.