In 2013, a long protracted battle that had pitted government officials and the media finally came to an end. That is when the Access to Information Law was passed, but it was a short-lived victory.
So, today as we celebrate World Access to Information Day, it is only fitting that we assess the impact, if any, the law has had on interactions between the media and government offices.
Journalists are sustained by sourcing and sharing information, but most importantly, they are the watchdogs of the public. Government officials, on the other hand, are the custodians of information which they tend to hold close to their chests.
Getting that piece of information is compounded when communication is not the officers’ strongest point. But it has been proven on many occasions that institutions that have a good communication strategy are better performers.
When they are forthcoming with information, they dispel suspicions, even when they have skeletons in their cupboards. But institutions that tend to be secretive, even about mundane matters, tend to attract deeper scrutiny because the media feels the former is hiding something.
It is still a long journey for all public officials to realise that the information in their custody belongs to the public. They need to be held accountable and the only way to achieve that is going through their books.
But luckily, not all government institutions are as described above. Many have all information at the tips of their fingers; their websites. Many home pages have all the information needed and it is easy to judge communication strategies of public bodies by simply examining their websites.
The wisdom gathered from Rwanda’s journey towards ease of access to information is that Rome was not built in a day; we need patience.