Making government accountable to citizens in Uganda and the region
By Flavia Fascendini for APCNews
PERGAMINO, Argentina, 30 May 2012
Lillian Nalwoga from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa coordinated research on open governance in Uganda as part of APC’s Action Research Network project. “Citizens, academia, the private sector and civil society need to be more involved in the implementation of open governance,” says Nalwoga in an interview with APCNews.
APCNews: What is the relevance of this research’s subject to you? Why do you think it is important to promote OGD frameworks in general and in particular on Eastern Africa? What are your comments on Uganda’s situation in the subregional context in this sense?
Lillian Nalwoga: The open government data (OGD) research is relevant to CIPESA’s work in enabling policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues and for various stakeholders to use ICTs to improve livelihoods. Most especially, the research is important for CIPESA’s wider programmes in the use of ICTs for democratic governance. Understanding Uganda’s OGD readiness and the perceptions and needs of citizens is an important aspect in gauging the level to which ICTs can be used in promoting an open government, as well easier and faster flow of information between public officials and citizens.
It is important to promote OGD frameworks in East Africa because of the benefits open governance provides. Benefits such as an increase in transparency and accountability would in turn enable citizens to access better social services. East African countries are at different levels of development in all sectors including ICT. Kenya scored highest in Sub-Saharan Africa with the launch of an open data portal in July 2011. The website (www.opendata.go.ke) allows Kenyan citizens to freely access government data on numerous sectors and population demographics. More recently, Tanzania has followed suit with the launch of www.opengov.go.tz. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi are lagging behind their counterparts. Promoting OGD frameworks will allow the countries lacking openness of data to learn and share best practices on how to better promote their efforts especially under the East African Community (EAC). OGD frameworks within the region will allow for easier integration of EAC as member states will easily learn share and access developments in the region while allowing for better service delivery within the region.
In Uganda, promoting an OGD framework will not only make government accountable to citizens but also foster a crop of open public servants and departments. Citizens will get better services because they would know what they are entitled to and the resources available to meet their needs, thus reducing the current rampant corruption in the country.
APCNews: What were the main challenges faced during the research process?
LN: The main challenge faced was scheduling meetings with key informants from the executive level of government. Besides having busy schedules (and we, too, had a tight schedule in which to complete the research), we noticed that most senior government officials were reluctant to participate in research. They probably fear being quoted as criticical of government. But also the law forbids civil servants from making public comments without the authority of the accounting officer of a public department. An additional challenge was that many potential respondents thought open government data was something complicated that they were not qualified to comment about. It therefore took quite a bit of explaining to get them ready for interviews. But once the interviews were underway, virtually all respondents mentioned they were aware of OGD, and supported efforts for Uganda to open its government data.
The OGD concept is fairly new and it touches the hearts of all citizens. More time to capture data on a larger proportion of the population especially in rural areas was unfortunately not available. Besides, there is not much available literature on OGD in Africa, hence it was hard to capture success stories on how OGD could benefit or even spur development in Africa.
APCNews: Assessment of citizen’s perceptions on open governance in Uganda revealed that there is a high level of knowledge about open governance in the country, as well as great expectations for the benefits that OGD would bring to Uganda. Which do you think were the factors that helped build acknowledgement of the importance of the OGD?
LN: The compounding factors that led to this acknowledgement amongst respondents and the overall conclusion maybe drawn from the known country cases of open governance from which citizens have learned about the benefits of OGD. Many respondents cited cases where corruption cases were unveiled as a result of government publishing some department and project expenditures. References were continually made to what countries like Kenya are currently doing to promote OGD and the benefits that have resulted, in order to indicate that promoting for OGD in Uganda would lead to similar benefits.
Also, the launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) initiative last year, where Uganda was among the six eligible countries to join and yet opted out, was an eye-opener for some citizens who are keen on knowing why Uganda decided not to join the OGP.
APCNews: Uganda was one of the first countries in east and southern Africa to formulate a national ICT policy and an access to information law addressing the openness of government data in one of its objectives but, as the report points out, the legislation on this matter remains largely unimplemented. How do you think this gap between the policy and the legislation could be mitigated?
LN: Massive awareness about the existence of the policy among the public is needed so that people get to know its relevance, how to apply it in their everyday lives and what other information to demand. Besides, there is need to lobby and create awareness among legislators and public officials on the need to implement these policies. A good way to lobby would be to showcase how openness has led, or can lead, to public good without hurting the interests of any stakeholder groups, be it government departments, public servants, the private sector or citizens groups. There would also be a need to update legislation (such as the ICT policy and the Access to Information law) to make them more explicitly and progressively supportive of OGD.
APCNews: The study Open government data readiness study in Uganda concludes that Uganda is ready to implement OGD with appropriate support and guidance. What does this support and guidance imply in terms of advocacy? Which actors should be involved on this implementation, according to the knowledge gained during the research and what are the expected inputs from each one of the actors involved?
LN: To some extent, the government of Uganda is practicing some sort of openness but it is facing challenges in sustaining the platforms on which such data should be accessed. Moreover, most of the available data is not in a reusable format. Thus in terms of advocacy, there is a need to point to government areas that require more readily available data. As pointed out by most respondents, more openness is needed in areas such as government spending in health, education, water and energy sectors. Also, government needs to spend more time developing and supporting applications that assist in hosting the data in readily accessible formats. Actors such as citizens, academia, private sector and civil society need to be more involved in the implementation of open governance as each stakeholder has a complementary role to play. The citizenry must continuously demonstrate their need for the data by demanding it. The private sector, on the other hand, needs to design and develop applications that will make open data readily available in easy-to-use formats and also make innovations based on OGD. Civil society has to continuously create awareness about the need for this data among communities while stressing the importance of the free flow of information among government and the public.
This research was developed in the context of APC’s Action Research Network, a project supported by the International Development Research Centre of Canada (IDRC).