Access to public information is expected to improve following the launch of a portal that will act as central processing unit for people seeking information in public institutions.
The portal was launched in Kigali on Wednesday.
The web site, www.sobanukirwa.rw, allows people to send and receive responses from information officers of public institutions, the information also automatically published it on the web and becomes accessible thereafter to anyone using search engines.
Any browser of the web site can also get e-mail alerts from authorities they follow on social media platforms as soon as new information is released.
According to Stephen Abbot Pugh, the co-founder of Tumenye, a company that created the web site in partnership with the Open Democracy and Sustainable Development Initiative (Odesudi), a local NGO, the development is in line with the country’s Access to Information Law that was passed in 2013.
The law was enacted to enable the public and journalists access information possessed by public and some vital private entities as a way of enhancing accountability in governance.
The free-of-charge portal comes in three languages; English, French and Kinyarwanda, and can be accessed through any Internet-enabled device.
“Access to information is not an end in itself, but it is a leverage right and a tool to access other rights. Good governance, citizen participation and accountability without access to information would be an illusion,” said Fredrick Hendrick Karanganwa, head of programme at Odesudi.
“One of the challenges on exercising access to information rights in the country is lack of a simplified system to make requests to information officers. Sobanukirwa helps in solving this problem by matching the demand and supply sides of access to information,” he added.
Currently, the web site has more than 540 contacts of information officers of various public institutions, ranging from ministries, districts and sectors.
Access to Information Law requires a government official who has received a request to release information to give feedback within three [working] days.
“We are currently in talks with the Ombudsman’s office to play the monitoring role, and ensure that various public institutions comply,” Pugh said.
He added that they will work with the Rwanda Governance Board and the Media High Council in the enforcement of the law.
The law also stipulates that one can turn to the courts of jurisprudence – as a last resort – if they feel they have been denied information by a public institution without justification.
“This central platform will save people the burden of visiting web sites to gather information as has been the case,” said Claude Mugisha, a co-founder of Tumenye.
Pugh said illiteracy and lack of access to Internet makes it difficult to access the web site.
However, the organisation is looking into a introducing a toll free line where one can file an information request through the company (Tumenye), and it (company) does the follow up on their behalf.
“Many people do not know the law on access to information exists, so we have a challenge of sensitising them about it,” Pugh said.
Projects similar to Sobanukirwa are currently running in 30 countries around the world.
The media fraternity also welcomed the development, saying it would help fast-track their search for information.