By Moses Odokonyero
Nwoya district officials have said contrary to belief by sections of the public, the district is open to responding to information requests from the public for information in its custody.
‘‘We have had complaints from the public and the media that the local government [Nwoya] hides information. The assumption here is that we are hiding information for a reason,’’ said Axuma Odokonyero, the district’s Information Officer.
‘‘But that is not true. We are open to giving out information to the public. But many times members of the public don’t know how and whom to request for information from,’’ said Mr Odokonyero.
Mr Odokonyero (unrelated to this writer) explained that information requests have to be channeled through the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) or if not, at least through the department under which the requested for informational falls.
The Information Officer was one of the three Nwoya district officials who on Tuesday December 14 appeared on an evening radio talkshow on Mega FM to discuss how the public can access information on public service deliveries in the custody of the district.
Mega FM is a Gulu based radio station that is widely listened to in northern Uganda,
The other Nwoya district officials who participated in the radio talkshow included Geoffrey Akena, the Senior Community Development Officer and Nester Adiyo, the district’s Health Educator.
The officials were appearing on the radio as part of a Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) and Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) project to promote the right to access to information in northern Uganda through radio, social media and training of journalists and district officials.
Earlier, under the project, journalists from Gulu and surrounding areas and district officials from Gulu, Nwoya and Amuru had earlier been trained on how to use the portal Ask Your Government Uganda (AYG) (http://askyourgov.ug/).
The portal aims at helping members of the public to request and get information they want from Uganda public authorities.
‘‘We encourage the public to make information requests to Nwoya district and we promise that you will get a response,’’ said Geoffrey Akena, the Senior Community Development Officer.
Mr Akena said the areas in which the public in Nwoya has shown the most interest are health, government projects targeting youth, the Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) which aims at raising household incomes and projects about safe drinking water at the sub country level.
‘‘But increasingly people in Nwoya are also interested in knowing about oil. We get many questions on oil and gas,’’ Akena said.
Nwoya has oil depots.
But the Nwoya officials also pointed out that while there is an interest on the part of the district to keep the public informed about public service delivery, the district faces challenges in playing this role.
They stated low staffing at the district, a lack of access to the internet, inadequate resources and the public’s poor awareness on how to make information requests as challenges.
‘‘Most of the information requests we get are from people who say they heard about what they want to know about on radio. Yet some areas in Nwoya don’t pick radio signals,’’ said Nester Adiyo, who discussed the challenges impeding access to information in Nwoya during the radio show.
Livingstone Nono, a caller from Nwoya accused some district officials of being arrogant when asked for information.
‘‘Nwoya is doing well in keeping the population informed on what is happening but some staff at the district are arrogant when asked for information. They should stop it.’’
Okot, another caller, also from Nwoya said a conflict between the In- Charge of Alero Health Centre and the LC3 Chairman had grounded the health centre.
‘‘The health centre is many times closed because of the conflict affecting service at the facility.’’
In response, Nester Adiyo, the Nwoya Health Educator said she had visited the health centre on the same day that she was appearing on the radio and said the matter had been resolved.
The access to information act under which information requests can be made to public agencies was enacted to promote efficiency, accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs.
But public agencies like the Nwoya local government and its public still face challenges in utilising the law to promote transparency and accountability. For example in the case of Nwoya information are mostly by word of mouth, according to Geoffrey Akena, the Senior Development Officer(Akena says each day, on average, he gets 60 visitors in his office making inquiries on various district activities).
Relatively easy to use platforms such as the AYG are still not being put to use by both the public and the Nwoya local government. While this can be attributed to no or inadequate access to the internet, it is also due to a lack of awareness about the portal and other online platforms that the district could use to interact with the public (the district staff have a WhatsApp group through which they communicate, suggesting they could also use their devices to inform the public through online platforms).