The Rt Hon Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, was asking us, ‘why do we do the things we do?’ The seriousness with which he asked the question, was likely to make those who gather often to ‘do these things’, uncomfortable.
The question was asked in the context of the commemoration of the International Day of the Universal Access to Information (IDUAI), marked on the September 28 every year.
We were brought together by the Africa Freedom for Information Centre (AFIC) to discuss the right to know and the Speaker was the Guest of Honor.
The day was marked under the theme, ‘the right to know: build back better’.
We could also extend the question to many other things we do as citizens and government. For instance, why do we legislate if we do not care much about the implementation of laws? Why do we have to elect our leaders if we cannot trust the process? Why do we have to make policies that we often do not believe in? We keep talking about how we have very good laws and policies, but what is a good law if it is not implemented effectively?
The Speaker’s concern came from a good place. He wondered, how does the law on Access to Information in Uganda, which is over a decade old, transform the lives of citizens in the country? If majority of citizens do not have access to a phone, how can we say information is reaching them via social media? He noted that the people he represents, may not make sense of Twitter or Facebook, let alone have access to a mobile telephone, so we must wonder about how they access information and its relevance to them.
The Speaker’s concerns are partly the reason that diversity matters. While leaders can ask these questions, they also have both the mandate and reasonable power to make these things matter in the real sense.
I agree that there should always be reasons why we should do these things like commemorate days for freedom of access for information, and more good reason for why we even make laws to facilitate these ideals.
It is helpful, that leaders are concerned about whether or not we are being relevant to the larger population or giving them sufficient protection. So many questions were asked with few answers.
What was interesting, was rooting for post legislative scrutiny of the laws we make and how these contribute to the transformation of ordinary citizen’s lives. That, is closely linked to the institutions that are created and given mandates, how they perform in ensuring they execute accordingly.
While we need research to find the real answers, we may have an idea from ordinary experience and anecdotal evidence, that these rarely transform the lives of citizens, and probably know why they do not.
The Speaker does offer some very good pointers on things to concern ourselves with, like what we need to do differently because if we can’t change their lives, there is no point to our conversations in high places like the Serena Hotel where this particular one was happening.
We also must focus on the purpose, if we are being effective and efficient because there is nothing more important.
If we cared about these things, clearly we would improve public service delivery to the people, protect private life and property. And if these laws do not serve their purpose and meet their efficacy criterion, then we should indeed take them off the shelf.
As I write this week’s column, the news has featured the billions spent in the Dubai Expo, the other billions spent upgrading the airport and of course, the questioning of their efficacy and efficiency.
It would help, if underlying everything we do, be they policy or practice, that the bottom-line will be why we do them in the first place, and their efficacy and efficiency. Very often, it appears that when it comes to public service, very few bother about it.
We cannot wonder why the lives of ordinary people seldom seem to change in the face of the many things we do precisely to create change for them if we do not do things differently.
The question of why do we do the things we do, should not only apply to legislation and policies, but actions of government like the Dubai Expo.
No doubt, as individuals too must ask ourselves that question of our personal goals and aspirations. The reason why should underlie our actions at every level.
However, this is more so for those who represent others by acting on behalf of others, and speaking for others, including those who provide information.
Indeed, the people in most of our villages may not be on Twitter and need not be, but we can provide an environment for which, their right to know can be a reality through the radio station in their backyard.
That, is why diversity matters, why multiplicity of channels matter just as much as the message.
Ms Maractho (PhD) is the Director Africa Policy Centre and Senior Lecturer at Uganda Christian University.