By Emmy Daniel Ojara
Journalists in Gulu have been trained on how to use the Ask Your Government (AYG) portal to request for information from the government and promote accountability and transparency in the management of public resources in Uganda.
The training took place on November 9 at Palema Hotel in Gulu town. The training was part of activities by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) with support from the Indigo Trust.
AYG was launched in 2014 by the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister in partnership with the Africa Freedom Information Centre (AFIC) and CIPESA. The portal aims at supporting the Access to Information Act (2005) by enabling citizens to request and receive public information from government authorities.
Ruth Atim one of the journalists who participated in the training which focused on laws that enable access to information in Uganda, in particularly the Access to Information Act, said the AYG portal will enable her to easily contact government authorities with requests for information.
‘‘I will use the portal to speak directly to government agencies. I just type my questions and send to the department I want,’’ said Atim.
Miss Atim recently received a response to a question she asked about the closure of the Bridge Schools. She put the question on the portal during a practical session during the CIPESA and NUMEC access to information training.
‘‘I expected to get a response in 21 days but I got a response in three days,’’ said Atim. ‘‘The fact that I got a response shows that the portal actually works,’’ said Atim. Her second question to the ministry of Gender and Labour about street children, however, remains unanswered.
Livingstone Okumu Lango, 60, who has been working as a journalist for the last 25 years said he will use the portal to ask the presidency about President Yoweri Museveni’s unfulfilled campaign pledges made during previous presidential campaigns.
‘‘I will use the portal to post questions to the office of the president to find out about his promises which have not been accomplished,’’ said Okumu.
At the training on how to use the AYG portal more than one week ago, Caroline Ayugi, a radio news editor posed a question to the ministry of health in the use of herbs in the management of sickle cells. The ministry of health of as of 11th November had not yet responded. This is still within the 21 days under which a government agency is supposed to give a response to a question from the public under the access to information act.
However, a low rate of response from government agencies to questions from the public is one of the challenges the AYG portal faces. During the training, Dr Wairagala Wakabi of CIPESA pointed out to the journalists that this low response still poses challenges to effective use of the portal as a tool to promote transparency and accountability in Uganda. This, he said, can be addressed through the government pro-actively releasing data to the public and the public developing a culture of asking questions from the government and its agencies.