Read access to public information still an illusion – P3

Wednesday July 18 2018

Journalists at work. Use of modern

Journalists at work. Use of modern communication technologies by the government in sharing information is something that cannot be neglected at this point in time. PHOTO|FILE 

By Peter Nyanje @pnyanje

Dar es Salaam. In the preceding two articles, we saw that an Access to Information (ATI) Act is not a guarantee that people will seamlessly enjoy this right. This is because there are people – notably in public offices – who were still operating under the old days’ notion that giving out information was a privilege.

But, we all are agreed that free and easier access to government-held information is one of the key pillars of economic and democracy development of any society. Free to access information is indeed an important aspect in promoting transparency and accountability.

For instance, people in rural areas need quality and timely information in facilitating informed dialogue when planning, monitoring and evaluating development issues at the local level – and to also enhance governance and accountability for improved delivery of service and implementation of projects.

Because the Access to Information Act-2016 (Act No. 6 of 2016) is already in place in Tanzania – and it guarantees Tanzanians access to information – then there is a need to sensitise the people to the law, especially among public servants. This is because most of the information which the public needs is in the hands of public servants. It is important that public servants know what the law entails.

Specialised training

There is also a need to conduct specialised training sessions for public officials on the salient features of another law, the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, and the importance attached to the public’s right to know.

Public servants should be made to understand that those who drafted this law had in mind the fact that it was a vehicle to drive the country’s socio-economic development.

Public officers should also introduce information desks or offices, and provide them with the appropriate resources, which include facilities and competent personnel to man them.

Doing this could play a big role in boosting sustainable flow of information.

If such offices operate efficiently, dissemination of information to the general public would be very smooth and considerable.

There are many times when someone doesn’t have to ask for information as, for example, fliers and posters would give people the information they need without the need for them to see anyone face to face.

In order to ensure that the new offices and personnel operate efficiently, there is a need to develop monitoring and evaluation tools for access to information by the general public in public offices.

But, on some occasions, private offices also deny people crucial information. In that regard, this monitoring aspect should be extended to the private sector as well, notably to firms which generate and hold information that is needed in the development processes.

In today’s globalised world, use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) cannot be overemphasised.

We in Tanzania already have an e-government policy in place. But, it is amazing that implementation of the policy is not so strong. The e-government policy needs to be enforced now.

Use of modern communication technologies by the government in sharing information is something that cannot be neglected at this point in time.

It is a shame, for an example, when an institution has email addresses, but when you send an email to it, it bounces as if the email address does not exist, or no-one at the address bothers to respond.

From experience, this is usually the case with a number of RC and Municipal offices (as noted in the second part of this article).

Email communication should ease information flow. Sometimes, one doesn’t need to pay a physical visit to get information, as time is precious, and many people can’t afford spending time on such missions nowadays.

There are some public offices that are doing well in the ICTs stakes. But most of them are still ‘Old School.’

In this day and age, the use of computers can’t be avoided.

It was very strange when our researcher went to the Dar es Salaam City Council on a follow-up mission, and she was told by the Council Registry attendants that they couldn’t respond to her email since they had no computer, no internet services!

There is a need to move on to modern filing systems. It is so embarrassing when you receive someone’s letter and, after a week or so, it can’t be traced anywhere in the place.