The Article clearly say: “Without prejudice to the laws of the land, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to seek, receive, and impact or disseminate information, and ideas through any media regardless of national frontiers and also the right of freedom from interference with his communication.”
However, the citizenry and some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) including NGOs whose operations largely depend on access to key information for them to execute their day-to-day activities this has been a big challenge for many years.
Presenting Policy Forum’s findings of the assessment study on the effectiveness of the circular provided by the then Prime Minister’s Office-Regional Administration and Local Government (PMORALG) during an engagement between officials of Policy Forum and the President’s Office Regional Administration and Local Government on Tuesday here, Policy Forum’s programme officer Anna Stainsby said although access to information is a constitutional right to the citizenry, it has remained a challenge due to a number of factors.
She noted that although the then Prime Minister’s Office-Regional Administration and Local Government (PMORALG) issued a circular that required local government authorities to make available a set of documents to CSOs in their areas, some local government officials have stuck to their guns by refusing to disseminate information for public consumption.
According to Stainsby “The aim of their survey was, among others, to assess whether the issued circular by PMORALG has had any significant impact on access to information.”
The survey was also meant to assess the level of understanding of the circular by local government authorities.
In their findings, she detailed, they realised that 70 per cent of the respondents were aware of the circular while 30 per cent did not know anything about it.
On the advantages and disadvantages of using the circular, she said, 70 per cent of the respondents reported that LGA officials were not aware of the circular and the purpose it served, while the remaining 30 per cent said that the LGA officials were aware of the circular but bureaucracy remained the major culprit when it came to effecting it.
The overall findings, according to her, present a mixed picture on the effectiveness of the circular. In some places it seemed to be so effective while in others the story was different.
Some CSOs have not used the circular because they trust in the relationship that they have built with their respective LGAs. “In those places where the circular has been in use, bureaucracy has been mentioned as one of the core challenges,” she said.
Sometimes it was hard for CSOs to obtain the required reports from the district councils on the fear that they could use the report to tarnish their images.
Respondents indicated that during elections, most of the government officials tended to develop cold feet when they were approached by CSOs seeking information from them.
“Most of the organisations that indicated to have used the circular are those that were doing social accountability monitoring (SAM) and public expenditure tracking (PETS) in their institutions.”
Responding to Policy Forum’s findings on access to information, director of Regional Administration Susan Chekeni advised the CSOs that if they wanted to operate smoothly with the 189 LGAs countrywide they should know and understand the existing government structure.
“Don’t parachute to the municipal level without passing through the regional level,” she advised.
“Working with the government does not need confrontation but rather you should pinnacle where the government has ended.” She added: “You need to have constructive views for the government.”
Concurring with Chekeni’s views, Acting Director Local Government Department (DLG) Sebastian Kitiku said: “You need to complement and supplement efforts of the government.”
Kitiku urged Policy Forum to empower the Ward Councillors and local actors who are the overseers of different projects at the local government level how to oversee them.
“We need capacity building at different levels, because many actors lack that knowledge, probably because of their levels of education,” he urged.
Contributions of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) including NGOs in exietence before and after independence cannot be underestimated.
The National Framework for Good Governance recognises (CSOs) as constituting a strong instrument for the effective participation and involvement of people in decision making and social, political and economic activities.
It is further stated that CSOs have a crucial role in informing and sensitising the people.
Among other things the framework requires that CSOs be involved deliberately in carrying out activities of civic education, as well as sensitisation on issues of law, health, agriculture, environment, gender, accountability, transparency, integrity and human rights.