District officials trained on use of portal to answer pubic queries on social service delivery

Officials from Gulu, Amuru and Nwoya districts trained in the use of the portal ‘‘Ask Your Government’’ have described the website as a platform that will be useful in improving the flow and exchange of information between their districts and the public.

‘‘I was unware of the website before the training. But I now know how to use it. I think it will be useful in the sharing of information between us in the local governments and the public,’’ said Anthony Onen, the Amuru district Population Officer.

Ask Your Government (http://askyourgov.ug/) was built to help members of the public get information from Uganda public authorities, including local governments.

Mr. Onen was among the technocrats from three local governments of Gulu, Amuru and Nwoya districts who participated in a training on how to use the Ask Your Government portal, and on the access to information law.  The trained officials included Information Officers, Community Development Officers, Natural Resources Officers and an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer.

The training organized by The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with Northern Uganda Media Club(NUMEC) took place in August at Kakanyero hotel in Gulu town.

Anthony Onen, the Amuru Population Officer said of the training: ‘‘But we need more of our colleagues in other departments also trained on how to use the website,’’ adding ‘‘because these departments hold information that is important for the public.’’

‘‘The training on how to use this website will help improve sharing of information with the public but the public must also be sensitized on how to use it and what kind of information can be asked for and not asked for from us,’’ said Santa Odwa, an Assistant Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) with the Gulu district local government.

Besides the district officials being trained on how to use the Ask Your Government portal, they were also trained on the existing legal frame work in Uganda that enables freedom of expression particularly the Access to information Act.

Passed by parliament in 2005, the Access to Information Act aims at among others to promote transparency and accountability in organs of the state by providing the public with information, and to empower the public to scrutinize and participate in government decisions that affect them.

In the context of northern Uganda, transparency and accountability by public authorities and the involvement of the public in the scrutiny of the public organs is particularly important because in the last one decade, the region has seen several post conflict recovery projects funded by both the government of Uganda and donors aimed at addressing public social services destroyed by war.

Most of these projects have been implemented under the frame work of the Peace, Recovery, and Development Programme (PRDP).

But due to a lack of scrutiny by the public and due to inadequacy of information to the public about projects under the PRDP, substandard work and corruption has impeded delivery of public services under PRDP as was the case in 2012 when the government’s Auditor General uncovered the swindling of over 50 billion shillings meant for the vulnerable in northern Uganda and other poorer parts of the country.

As recently as September, the government launched yet another project— a 233 billion shillings (US$ 70.3 million)—Project Restoration of Livelihoods in Northern Uganda (PRELNOR).  The seven year project aims at improving the livelihoods and construct community roads to link local communities in nine districts in the Acholi region to markets. This type of project underscores the continued need for the public to have access to information to empower them so they are in position to hold public organs and officials accountable.

As at 2014, there were 18.3 million users of mobile phones in Uganda and a total of 20% had access to the internet.  This means that platforms like Ask Your Government and other online based platforms are increasingly gaining influence and becoming important channels to disseminate information, promote accountability and cause public debate around public service deliveries in Uganda.

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