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Government passes Access to Information Act regulations

(HRNJ/IFEX) - Kampala, 3 June 2011 - The much awaited Access to Information Act (ATIA) regulations have finally been passed by government. The regulations are meant to operationalise the Access to Information Act passed by parliament six years ago.

Although the regulations indicate that they were signed by the former minister of information Princess Rwabwoni Kabakumba Matsiko on 10 March 2011 and published in the gazette late April 2011, this development has remained a secret.

Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states that "Every citizen has a right to access information in the possession of the state or any other organ or agency of the state except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the state or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person."

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has learnt that accessing information in public offices is likely to remain a challenge, however, since the regulations have not yet been made available to the general public nor to the government departments responsible for processing information requests.

Sources indicate that the regulations were leaked to civil society organisations in Uganda in late June, and have been circulating among various parties, since then, including members of the public.

"We applaud the government for signing and gazetting the regulations to facilitate the full enjoyment of the right to access information," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala. "Although the law has its own loopholes, we are optimistic that it will reduce the number of journalists in Uganda who have been accessing information through the back door."

He said the practice had resulted in compromised security for journalists, who faced charges including forgery, while others had been kidnapped.

The regulations come as Uganda prepares to host the pan-African NGO Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) at the upcoming Global Gathering of the Access to Information Initiative this October. As well, civil society organisations have formed a Coalition on Access to Information (COFI) housed at Human Rights Network Uganda (HURINET) to popularise the law and promote transparency and openness in government.

As part of popularising the ATIA, HURINET has organised a Training of Trainers (TOT) for 30 people from CSOs scattered across all regions of Uganda. The TOT was intended to create a base of resource people well-versed in the ATIA to play a facilitative role.

"We are trying to create a pool of experts so that members of CSOs and the public make use of them to access information," said HURINET Advocacy and Information officer Patrick Tumwine.

HURINET has put in place a litigation fund to respond to denials of information request.

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