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.