Uganda’s Open data Trek

Road

(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.  

Way forward

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.

Media  should  interpret and disseminate the budget for easy understanding and follow up of events by the masses. 

 

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About Joy Namunoga

Joy is a US Department of State alumni for the Community solutions Program 2016. She was a Policy Fellow at Sunlight Foundation in Washington DC and presently,the Advocacy officer for Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, where she empowers citizens to actively and sustainably demand transparency and accountability from public and corporate officials. Join Joy in envisioning a world where transparency and accountability exists.
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