(Photo credit: User.ug)
Open data are online, free of cost, accessible data that can be used, reused and distributed provided that the data source is attributed and shared alike. Open data is valuable in many ways including; transparency and democratic control, participation, self-empowerment, improved or new private products and services, innovation, improved efficiency and effectiveness of government services, impact measurement of policies and new knowledge from combined data sources and patterns in large data volumes, amongst other uses.
Uganda’s open data Journey
Uganda has laws which guarantee access to information by the people and disclosure of the same by government. A good example is the Access to information Act (ATIA) 2005 which manifests a step forward for government’s willingness to provide useful public information. However, accessing information does not guarantee open data.
In principle, open data should be complete through making it publicly available and not subject to valid privacy, security or privilege limitations, Primary where data is as collected at the source, with the highest possible level of granularity, not in aggregate or modified forms, timely by making it available as quickly as necessary to preserve the value of the data, Accessible by being made available on the Internet so as to accommodate the widest practical range of users and uses, machine processable where data is reasonably structured to allow automated processing, Non discriminatory, Non proprietary by having data available in a format over which no entity has exclusive control, and License-free where it is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade secret regulation.
While open data is free data without restrictions, Access to information in Uganda’s context is the absolute opposite to the open data principles. Uganda’s Access to information regulations support implementation of the ATIA in a number of important ways like establishing procedures for citizens to request government held information and for government to respond to citizen requests, but the same regulations have controversial factors like the burdensome provisions that make access unnecessarily costly and difficult .
As such, these provisions may not be in the spirit of the right to information provision as found in Uganda’s Constitution. For example financial terms, application fees, details on what you use the information for, amongst other restrictions are some of the requirements and/or restrictions to be fulfilled for one to access information in Uganda.
These factors greatly challenge the transparency and accountability principles in the search for information but also, could be a thorn in the throat to Uganda’s access to information and open data.
Not all is Lost
While there are bottlenecks in the laws surrounding access to information in Uganda, the country strives to make significant contributions towards opening up information for public consumption.
Two government institutions should be credited for their efforts towards opening up data sets to the general public in a country which is not a member of the Open Government partnership. These include; Ministry of Planning Finance and Economic development (MoFPED) as well as the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA). For instance, Budget conferences are conducted by the Minister of Finance Planning and Economic Development where the Budget Strategy for the next Financial Year is presented to all Ministries, Departments, Development partners, Local Governments, Civil Society and the public in general. This implies that the Finance ministry is not only interested in involving citizens in the budgeting process but also informing them on the financial operations of government.
While the same institutions institutions could be challenged by financial resources, a non existent open data policy and Uganda not being a member of the Open Government Partnership, the open budget initiative by the MoFPED and disclosure efforts by the PPDA to disclose timely online data are a positive step for Uganda’s willingness to open up data sets for public use.
These two government institutions could qualify as the leading data transparency institutions in Uganda, but their efforts may never be appreciated by the biggest section of the population who do not access internet to search and make use of the data.
The open data movement in Uganda maybe be challenged by controversial laws, the country not being a member of the Open Government Partnership, 19% internet users and consumer’s illiteracy in the face of growing corruption.
However, independent groups like activists and media should bridge a gap between the information released while facilitating access and usability of the released by information by the population.