Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Access to public information still a mirage - Part 2

Journalists are the hardest-hit by the lack of

Journalists are the hardest-hit by the lack of urgency among those who man information desks in the offices of Regional Commissioners and municipal councils.PHOTO|FILE 

By Peter Nyanje @pnyanje pnyanje@tz.nationmedia.com

Dar es Salaam. Though the Access to Information Act and its accompanying regulations have provided for seamless flow of information, the situation has not improved, according to a research commissioned by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT). Results of a study involving the offices of regional commissioners and councils in seven regions established that the presence of the law, notwithstanding, officials were still reluctant to release information as asked.

To complement the MCT work, MISATAN also commissioned another study in the seven regions of Dar es Salaam, Mbeya, Mwanza, Kigoma, Arusha, Dodoma and Mtwara. The study involved journalists who sent questions to respective offices and responses were as follows:

Dodoma

According to the researcher, accessing information at the Regional Commissioner’s Office was a challenge. The researcher says efforts by journalists to unearth various developmental challenges that face this region fail because of lack of cooperation by information holders as exemplified in the Regional Commissioner’s office.

“It is very hard to get a response from this office. A good example is the letter I hand-delivered on April 27, this year, and had a copy signed. But until May 15, I hadn’t received even a call from them,” says a researcher from Dodoma.

On the contrary, the Municipal Council in Dodoma seems to be open and cooperative. Officials give information regardless of who wants it and without questioning why that information is needed.

“I tendered my request letter on April 27 requesting an interview with the director; I got the response on May 12.”

Mbeya

A research assistant was instructed to prepare a request letter with questions and hand-delivered it to the office of the Mbeya City Council Director. It was well-received and after one day she received a call from an information officer who told her that he had received her letter and was working on it.

“After two days, I got another call asking me to go get my answers because they were ready,” she says.

But the situation is a bit challenging at the Regional Commissioner’s Office. Despite the fact that the RC had scheduled meetings with members of the public twice a month (every first and last Thursday) to listen to their concerns. “I submitted my request letter to the RC’s office on the 27th of April and it was received by the registry. But no one even acknowledged receiving it until the 21-day period expired on the 16th of May,” the researcher notes.

Mtwara

A research assistant in Mtwara also hand-delivered a letter to the RC’s office and also sent a copy via the Regional Administrative Secretary’s email: ras@mtwara.go.tz.

“I never received an acknowledgement. I had to make a phone call and was promised that they will get back to me, but all to no avail,” she said adding:

“I used similar ways to submit my request letter to the Director of the Municipal Council, by hand and via email, mtwaradc@mtwara.go.tz. There was no formal acknowledgement. I met the public relations officer at a public function and he promised to work on the request. He never did, even after calling him on different occasions.”

At the Municipal Director’s office, officers at the registry did not cooperate, but were busy hawking.

Kigoma

It was a different story in Kigoma where the Regional Commissioner’s office received the research assistant well. “The office cooperated, and as a journalist I can attest to the fact that they are accountable and transparent,” she said.

According to the Kigoma researcher, the office of the Municipal Council on the other hand cordially receives visitors as well, but doesn’t act on request letters in time.

“It was very disappointing that when I followed it up they (the Registry) told me that my letter was nowhere to be seen… they lost it,” said the researcher.

Arusha

A research assistant in Arusha reported that she managed to get the information requested within 21 days after the letter was submitted. However, the main challenge in this office is getting information via the email address given.

Even though the world is fast-changing, especially in communications, and despite the emphasis on e-government as well as the use of technology, many public officials are not catching up as fast as they are supposed to.

The researcher noted: “I have always believed that email is the fastest way to get information across and it was my hope that they will respond but all to no avail. I had to make a physical visit to get the information I needed.”

Mwanza

A researcher assistant arrived at the RC’s office on April 25 to submit the information request letter. It was received and a copy signed with the Registry attendant.

There was a challenge in getting the contacts of the person who received the letter for follow up, but later she reluctantly gave the number.

A follow up after 14 days did not yield anything. The researcher had to make a physical follow-up on May 9, but the letter could not be found.

The officials claimed the reply was sent, but noone could trace it. “My assumption is that no one worked on that letter. Even after I tried to follow it up , it yielded nothing.”

On the same day that a letter was delivered at RC’s office, a similar request was delivered at the Mwanza City Council offices. Despite the fact that the receiver asked the assistant researcher to go back after three days for follow up, she never wanted to share any contacts that would help him during follow ups.

Some 10 days later, there was no formal reply from the person in charge. Physical visits to the office did not bear any fruits.

The registry officer took the researcher to the public relations office where she was told that the land officers (to whom most of the questions were directed) were still working on the information requested.

“I decided to look for the director himself. I bumped into him on his way to the conference hall in the same compound and reminded him of the letter I submitted, but without stopping he said he was busy and wasn’t ready for any interview.”

Dar es Salaam

A research assistant in Dar es Salaam recommended that the Regional Commissioner’s office improve their customer service. This includes communication skills and attitude when it comes to dealing with clients.

The researcher described the services at the RC’s office as not impressive, especially from those who man the registry department.

But on the other hand, the Dar es Salaam City Council is described as the best example of how a public service should be in terms of customer handling. They receive every visitor with respect and listen to them. They would assist you in any way.

To be continued….

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