Officials at the Office of the Ombudsman have called for more awareness about citizens’ right to access information.
They cited a situation where some people still ignore that the country has access to information laws and often don’t complain in case they are denied information.
This came up on Tuesday at a meeting that drew public relations officers in government institutions and journalists to talk about their experiences in sharing and accessing information.
The gathering, which attracted about 100 participants, was organised by Rwanda Governance Board in partnership with the Ombudsman’s office, the Rwanda Media Commission, and the Office of the Government Spokesperson.
With only twenty people having complained for being denied access to information in the last five years since Rwanda enacted an Access to Information Law, officials from the Ombudsman’s office said that more awareness about this right needs to be stepped up.
They said that the small number of complaints means that citizens are either not aware that they can complain through the office in case they are denied information or are simply satisfied with the way they are served with information from different institutions.
Cécile Mugeni, an acting director at the Ombudsman’s office in charge of monitoring interdictions and incompatibilities of senior officials, said that the fact that a small number of complaints were received could mean many things including lack of knowledge.
“It’s possible that either some people don’t know that we have this responsibility (to receive complaints about refusal to provide information) or that people are generally compliant with the responsibility to give information,” she said.
The country’s access to information law requires officials to provide information to journalists and other citizens within the shortest period of time possible that often doesn’t exceed three days.
Once officials fail to provide citizens with unrestricted information, information seekers can appeal to the Ombudsman’s office for help.
But five years since the legal provision was put in place, Mugeni said that only twenty people have officially complained to the office about undisclosed information, including fifteen journalists, three lawyers, and two ordinary citizens.
“Many people don’t know what is in this law (Access to Information Law), including journalists, leaders, and ordinary people. If many leaders can know what this law entails, a number of challenges to access information wouldn’t be happening,” she said.
The executive secretary of the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), Emmanuel Mugisha, agreed that the small number of those who officially complain about denied access to information is probably a result of journalists’ ignorance about how far they can push to get their right to information.
“It is possible that some journalists are not aware of their rights as far as the Access to Information Law is concerned,” he said.
The deputy Ombudsman in charge of preventing and fighting corruption, Clément Musangabatware, reminded officials in charge of public relations and communications that they need to be as pro-active as possible in providing public information.
“Accountability is recognising that partners are dependent on the results of your work. It is about being open,” he said.
He explained that accountability remains one of the cornerstones of good governance in the country.
“The essence of accountability means having the obligation to answer questions,” he said.
Many participants at yesterday’s meeting urged officials in charge of promoting access to information to keep educating Rwandans about the right and responsibility to share and demand information because many challenges are related to lack of knowledge.