Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Internet censorship in Uganda is neither necessary nor proportionate

Owen Alton Baluku

Uganda Communications Commission has been challenged about its heavy-handed approach to perceived threats to public order by the media.
Speaking at a World Press Freedom Day 2019 conference in Kampala, Dr Wairagala Wakabi, the executive director of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA) said there has never been a case in Uganda where an internet or media shutdown was necessary or proportionate to a perceived threat. He said unnecessary shutdowns and directives by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) infringe on rights of access to information and freedom of expression.
“In trying to regulate online information, legitimate opinion by media might be sanctioned,” he said. “Directives like the recent one from UCC are likely to cause media to practice a lot of self-censorship. There’s going to be less diversity in opinions, on and offline.”
On April 30 2019, UCC ordered 13 radio and television stations to suspend news managers, producers and heads of programming following alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards.
Wakabi said the actions of UCC are detrimental to democracy “especially at crucial times such as during elections when media should prominently play their watchdog role and citizens need access to broad range of diverse information for decision making.”
Responding to this submission, Mr Ibrahim Bossa, the UCC spokesperson, justified the regulator’s directives. He said were are carried out after engagement with media houses and were not intended to punish journalists and the media.
“The directive to suspend content controllers was so that they could give way for investigations, which is common practice. It is okay for the regulator to intervene so that it can protect society from information that sensational, prejudicial and likely to incite,” he said.
Ms Patricia Twasiima Bigirwa, programme officer at human rights NGO Chapter Four, questioned UCC’s assertion that its actions were made in the interest of the public. She said that the directives infringed on the rights of citizens by denying them to access to vital information about what is happening in the country.
In his presentation, Dr Wakabi discussed findings of a CIPESA study on the techno-political characteristics of countries that order shutdowns.
“A big number of them are characterised as authoritarian, tend to be lowly ranked on the 2018 press freedom index, are main predators of media freedom and their leaders have stayed in power for more than 13 years.”
He said many democracy deficits come with shutdowns and that they must be addressed even as the struggle for press freedom continues.
The panel discussion was part of the WPFD national conference organised by African Centre for Media Excellence, the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Freedom House and other media development partners.


Owen Baluku Alton

The officials were last Thursday speaking during a meeting at Central Division Hall in Kasese town where they were accompanied by officials from other service Uganda one stop service centers from Gulu,Jinja,Entebbe and Mbale.

Sarah Lwanga Nuliuti,the Principal Management Analyst from Ministry of public service said “the team from different pilot centers came to Kasese to benchmark because as one of the five pilot centers,Kasese has moved faster than any other service Uganda one stop centers.
“The team for different Pilot centers including Entebbe,Ministry of Public Service,Jinja,Gulu and Mbale came to Kasese for benchmarking simply because it is one of the centers that is moving faster than any other apart from the ministry of public service that was launched in January 2019.”
Sarah says other pilot centers have not been moving at the same pace with Kasese due to political,infrastructural and financial challenges.
However,she says: “though Kasese faces the same challenges,it is moving faster and is being looked at the model service Uganda center”.She adds “that’s why other centers came here to benchmark,share experiences of the story of Kasese,learn from them,but also ensure that there are those good practices that they will learn from the model one stop service center and take back to their service Uganda centers.”
Lwanga underscores the importance of benchmarking as a move that “helps in interaction, to share knowledge and understanding the concept of OSSCs even further.”
Sarah,who is a team member on coordination for the establishment and operationalisation of service Uganda said Municipal officers such as town clerks,human resource officers,CDOs,can do strategy work in their offices but that routine work like inquiries and filling of forms can be handled at the service center without requiring the departmental heads.
Kalle Sepp,the Head of Estonian Delegation says it is a great opportunity for Estonia to cooperate with Uganda,noting that Tallin Development and Training center.
He announced that the project that started in 2016 will come to an end on 31 June 2019 after being a success and that the Foreign Affairs ministry of Estonia did a good job in funding it.
He calls on OSSCs to emphasize good customer care services noting that in Tallin,Estonia,it is one of the best ways of providing services to the public.
Sepp notes that about 2000 different services are provided to the people,while 573 other services are also provided via the internet (ICT) so that youth and the elderly can easily receive them conveniently.
He notes that taxes are completed online in under 5 minutes,and that  99 percent of the Estonia’s public services are available on the web 24 hours a day and nearly one-third of citizens vote via the internet.
Asked about renewal of the project so that other districts can also benefit,Mr Sepp noted that the project will be terminated first before they think of the second phase.However,he says it will depend on whether Estonia’s ministry of foreign affairs agrees to continue funding the project.
He revealed that Lira,Arua,Hoima and Rukungiri municipalities are also requesting for one stop service centers.
Sarah Lwanga,however noted that renewal of the project will depend on a memorandum of understanding between the permanent secretaries from ministry of public service,ICT and Estonian government and look at the lifespan of the project.
Lwanga reveals that government will push for other projects as a reform and government will also continue supporting and establishing other centers in a phased manner so that services can reach its people.

Jana Vital,a member of the Estonian Technical Committee for the operationalisation of OSSCs in Uganda said “it takes a lot of team work,commitment,trust and a supporting shoulder to move on together towards one come goal,which is not competition but offering a service for ones’ country.”
She urges staff at OSSCs to be the face of public service and asked them to handle difficult customers with care and in a creative way so that they don’t go away. Improve customer satisfaction by delivering services based on customer needs,expectations and preferences.
The Municipal Principal Commercial Officer,Kasese,Mr Godfrey Bwambale who is the center team leader said they offer a comprehensive range of services at the OSSC that include payroll management,distribution of payslips,payroll updates,salary complaints,processing building plans,operation wealth creation,URA,cooperatives/SACCO formation,Uganda registration services bureau and NSSF services.
Mr Bwambale says the service center partners with ministry of public service and Estonian government that are handy in ensuring that the center provides services. He notes that “it is a reform that aims at transferring service delivery in public service through establishing of service Uganda centers as a response to the current increased demand  world over to focus on government reforms on  citizen-centric delivery centers”.
He also noted that the center had reduced time used in travel to FortPortal in Kabarole district from 75KM or 3 hours to just a few minutes.

The Kasese Municipal deputy mayor,Mr Peter Baluku who represented the mayor his worship Godfrey Kabbyanga Baluku said nearness of the OSSC is helping public to get timely service provision because all services are accessed under one roof.
While closing the meeting,Mr Peter Baluku thanked ministry of public service for selecting Kasese as a regional center and said “I was supposed to travel to Fort Portal to get a TIN Number but got the service here in Kasese………..and it is really helping many people.”
Peter who encouraged staff at OSSCs to have good customer care,called on all centers in the country to learn from each other so that they can improve where they have challenges.
Several representatives from other OSSCs gave their testimonies and all pointed out the challenge of lack of funding,space,furniture and resources.
They also pointed out that municipal departmental heads operate from OSSCs due to lack of office space at Municipal level.
Mrs Jane Akwero,the Human Resource Officer Gulu Municipal council and in charge Gulu One stop service center says they are only four months old but there are so far three desks at the center that handle customer care issues,pension,payroll management and TIN registration and the lands desk.
Akwero says the center has minimized complaints of delayed pension payments.
She notes that municipality authorities have budgeted 8million shs for the center .
Samuel Mali,the Principal Commercial Officer and of Mbale Municipality One Stop Service Center,which is second best model center says the district is home to about 10 University campuses whereby the students visit the center for academic purposes.
Mr Mali says the center also handles the contentious 1972 Departed Asians Property case and hopes that it will soon be settled.
The vision for service Uganda is accessible,efficient and affordable public services while the Mission is to provide a comprehensive range of integrated services.The One Stop-Service Center is a center that provides integrated services and information from government to people, as part of a comprehensive strategy to ease stress and strain of accessing public and social services to better their lives.One does not have to be referred elsewhere.
One Stop-Service Center (OSSC) is one of the government's initiative aimed at bringing effectiveness, efficiency,transparency and accountability in governance.
Kasese service center was early this year launched by the permanent secretaries from ministry of public service and ICT.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

New dawn for Kasese - NRM, FDC unite for development

By John B. Thawite

The main rival political parties in Kasese district, Western Uganda, have resolved to shelf their bickering for the sake of rebranding the district and harnessing the huge investment potential of the area.
They made the resolution on Saturday at a day-long meeting brokered by the national chief coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation and  President Yoweri Museveni’s younger brother, Caleb Akandwanaho, aka Salim Saleh.
It was co-chaired by Catherine Muhindo, FDC  Vice chairperson and district secretary for production and Fred Businge, the acting chairperson of the ruling National Resistance Movement(NRM), Fred Businge.
The participants, numbering more than 250, also included religious and cultural leaders, the private sector, representatives of the district elder’s forum, and leaders of various NRM and FDC structures.

Endorse Shs119.550b investment plan
At the meeting, held at the district multipurpose hall opposite the Kasese aerodrome, a technical team, headed by the district planner, Alex Masereka presented a District Investment Plan, worth Shs119.550b, which they all unanimously endorsed.
The plan, whose goal is to propel the district into the middle income status by 2021,  prioritises  the exploitation of minerals, tourism, the abundant rivers for irrigation, lakes, crater lakes and the flat agricultural land.
It also aims at investing in the coffee, cotton, maize, rice, livestock, and fisheries.
The plan also advocates for a viable investor to revamp the defunct Kilembe Mines Ltd and the Katwe Salt Lake Industry.
Women youth and the elderly across the district will also be supported with cottage industries.
The pan also seeks to harness the hydropower potential and improve roads, markets and address environmental hazards as well as develop a sports complex.
According to Fred Businge, the Saturday meeting was a culmination of a series harmonization meetings chaired by Salim Saleh who has been pitching camp in the district for several weeks.
“I am happy that I have achieved this day. You have given me mileage,” Salim Saleh said while closing the meeting.
He urged the stakeholders to aspire to market the district investment potential in the Rwenzori Mountains and in the planes and to develop a communication plan to do so.
He hailed the Rwenzori sub-region for having contributed to the country’s liberation but noted that disunity had made the area lag behind in development.
Funds guaranteed
Gen Saleh revealed that the Ministry f finance had processed a certificate of Financial Implication for the required fund but strongly advised the district to ensure absorption.
He challenged at stakeholders – the clergy, the clan leaders, government functionaries, civil society and the private sector to work together.
The acting Prime Minister and chairperson of the inter-ministerial commission, established to handle the embattled Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu (OBR) issues, Gad Mbayahi, described the Saturday meeting as his “long-desired wish.”
He lashed at leaders who oppose development ideas suggested by those of the opposite political sides.
“Kasese isn’t a bad place but it is run by people who want to use it as their selfish business projects.
“I am glad this has happened. Today I am not interested whether you are FDC or NRM because we are here for the common development of the Rwenzori,” said the district LC5, Geoffrey Sibendire Bigogo.
The district vice chairperson Gideon Ntabose, (FDC), termed the meeting as historical
“I have never seen people of different political parties come to the same table in this district,” said Ntabose, who is also represents the youth on the District Council.
He warned fellow politicians to desist from resisting developmental ideas from leaders of other political parties.
“This meeting should teach us that when a member of the opposite party talks of development and service delivery, we should be supportive,” he said.
Ntabose also warned leaders and other residents against utterances and actions that can repulse tourists and investors.
He implored government to also invest in the reconstruction of the Rwenzururu palace, burnt in 2016, release the king and market it as one of the tourist attractions.
The Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Joshua Kisembo Masereka, revealed that some people had attempted to fail the meeting.
He blamed the slow pace of development on the politics of lies and cheap popularity.
“We all made mistakes. It is time we woke up and stopped lamenting and sitting on ourselves,” Godfrey Kabyanga, the Mayor Kasese Municipality, advised.
What others said
The councilor representing persons with disabilities in the district council, Pelucy Kabagenyi, called for affirmative interventions for her category to avoid marginalizing them in the implementation of the multi-billion investment plan.
Lhusenge Thembo, a musician-turned politician complained that the local artistes were sidelined in the district and called for a special fund.
Former Kasese woman MP, Loice Biira Bwambale, asked the planners to mainstream apiary to prevent the queen Elizabeth national park animals from invading gardens of the neighbouring communities but also to harvest honey for economic development.
Seddress Masika Kalengyo, called for interventions to combat plastic waste known, especially as kavera (polythene bags), saying they were becoming and environmental hazard in the district.
Retired South Rwenzori Diocesan Bishop, Zebedee Masereka, cautioned the district to develop an operation and maintenance plan for the pants and equipment being requested in the plan.
Retired resident District Commissioner, Barnabas Bamusede Bwambale, called for technologies to
turn the maize stalks and into hay and silage.

Maize is one of the widely grown crops especially in prison farms in the district.