AFIC releases state of Access to information and elections in Uganda report
By Kitts D.Mabonga
FOCUSS ON UGANDA DECIDES 2021 ELECTIONS
THE REPORT AND ITS IMPACT ON THE ACTORS
The Africa freedom of information Centre [AFIC] which is the largest membership pan African civil society organization and resource Centre that promotes citizens right of access to information [ATI], has been commended by the Judiciary for coming out with its new report detailing the state of access to information and elections in Uganda which is critical during the current ongoing electoral process.
As Uganda prepares to go to the polls on 14th January 2021, according to the report, critical issues arise regarding the country’s preparedness towards this most important democratic process to enable an informed choice on the future leaders of the country as access to information is very critical in the electoral processes.
While presiding over the report launch by the principal judge, Justice Flavian Zeija at Protea hotel in Kampala yesterday under the theme ‘Enhancing transparency and accountability in electoral processes in Africa, he said elections must be free and fair and appreciated by all the stakeholders as mandated under the good democratic elections principals.
Justice Zeija pointed out that the report was timely as it demands the electoral commission and all the stakeholders to work together in ensuring that the upcoming general elections are held in a free and fair environment which is free of violence, voter intimidation and bribery among other misdeeds.
He observed that the Judiciary was currently preparing the ground through training its justices to ensure that the post elections petitions are disposed off expeditiously and transparently.
The function which was moderated by Susan Juliet Agwang who is the AFRIC legal and research officer commended all the stakeholders for honoring their invitation to grace the function saying they look forward to networking with all the actors in ensuring that the findings are respected and important of all used by the implementing partners as a deliberate vehicle of ensuring that the upcoming elections are held in the most free and transparent manner possible.
THE STAKEHOLDER FRATERNITY ON ELECTIONS; A cross section of the distinguished participants pose for memorable group photo opportunity shortly after the close of the launch event in Kampala yesterday.
Agwanga pointed out that AFIC was privileged to share the report findings with its stakeholders and jointly discussing and an analyzing the situation of access to information and elections in Uganda and the extent to which regional treaties and standards on electoral transparency are reflected in the national legal framework and how they are applied in practice.
This report according to the AFIC executive director Gilbert Sendugwa, focuses on the standards set by the African Union guidelines on access to information and elections in Africa [AU Guidelines] which were adopted during the 61st ordinary session of the African commission on human and peoples’ rights [ACHPRI] on 10th November 2017.
The guidelines provide direction to the relevant electoral stakeholders who have a duty to proactively disclose information in their possession or controls that are necessary for safeguarding the integrity and legitimacy of the electoral process.
The stakeholders include authorities responsible for appointing the election management bodies, political parties and candidates, law enforcement agencies, election observers and monitors, media and online media platform providers, media regulatory bodies and civil society organizations.
The study involved a desk review of relevant international and regional human rights instruments as well as national laws, policies and to establish fundamental principals and provisions governing public access to information in elections, whether and how they are reflected in Uganda’s legal framework.
In determining the practice, a desk review of studies on access to information and elections was conducted and were complemented by key informants interviews with electoral stakeholders including among others, senior officials from the electoral commission, ministry of ICT and national guidance, Uganda communications commission [UCC], civil society organizations [CSOs], Uganda people’s defence forces [UPDF], the public procurement and disposal of public assets authority [PPDA], the media and citizens.
However it is reported that interviews were conducted face to face as well as through virtual means owing to the Covid-19 pandemic of which information received was verified with relevant authorities to ensure their reliability.
The recommendations reached by the Centre and meant to address the challenges to the electoral processes in Uganda do includes, requiring the electoral commission to proactively disclose electoral information designed for all persons including persons with disabilities [PWDs] in line with the African Union guidelines on access to information and elections as well as the African model law on access to information in Africa.
They also urge the electoral commission to adopt guidelines on access to information and elections consistent with the AU guidelines on Access to information and elections in Africa alongside actively taking responsibility in actively responding to requests for information made by citizens as well as publishing complete procurement information on the government procurement portal, and all its official channels of communication.
Turning to the law enforcement sector which is seen and viewed as a critical actor in the entire election process, it was urged to refrain from selective implementation of the guidelines set by the electoral commission and instead facilitate the enjoyment of fundamental rights as purely recognized by the constitution.
The security forces were also required to refrain from using excessive force in their efforts in enforcing electoral standards and ensuring that they are equipped with non-lethal crowd control equipment which must strictly be administered in justifiable circumstances.
The report warns that security personnel including the local defence Units [LDUs] and the police who have been cited for grave human rights violations during the Covd-19 lockdown era, who disregard their mandate during the election period should be held accountable for their actions.
The judiciary in the report is urged to assert its independence and ensure that all persons shall be subjected under the law where cases of human rights violations arises and are presented to the courts of law for action.
The parliament of the country is urged to use its oversight role and compel all ministers to comply with section 43 of the Act and stringent sanctions for non-compliance should be applied and if necessary, sector budget approval should be based on compliance with this important section of the ATI law.
The house is further urged to remove excuses for non-compliance, but should emphasize on providing more funds to government ministries to mainstream ATI activities alongside ensuring that the process for the selection and appointment of members of the Uganda electoral commission should be transparent, widely publicized and allow for public participation.
The role of the civil society organizations should involve increasing their monitoring activities to enhance transparency and accountability of public officials and institutions.
They should also ensure that as the online campaigning exercise gains momentum, CSOs have a role in bringing attention to the abuse of state resources, discrimination, and disinformation and hate speech alongside raising public awareness about clandestine abuses of the systems.
They are also required to counter hate speeches messaging and better inform and educate communities of the benefits of tolerance and social cohesion while citizens need to know that their participation is critical for the realization of democracy through elections.
The roles of both political parties and candidates is to squarely ensure that they proactively disclose electoral information consistent with the AU guidelines on access to information and elections in African model law on access to information and also political parties and candidates should advocate for and comply with political advertising disclosure and campaign finance requirements and hold their counterparts in other political parties to the same standards. And finally ensure that campaign messages and materials are designed to cater for persons with disabilities.
And the media in this whole game is to ensure equal and transparent coverage of all candidates regardless of the party they belong to
Several stakeholders made their sector presentations including the Uganda human rights commission [UHRC] director of research, education and documentation Mr.Byonabye Kamadi, the officer in charge of Mulago national referral hospital police station ASP Denis Bello and Mr.Simon Eroku presented a shocking position paper from the perspective of persons with disabilities [PWDs] in the election cycle who works as the creative lead at the open signs impact innovations.