Training and Sensitization of District Information officers (DIOs) on FOI & @Sobanukirwa Access to Information Website

ODESUDI trains District information officers on their roles and responsibilities in promoting access to information in Rwanda.

“Citizens’ access to information to promote accountable governance must be embrace by local authorities for sustainable development”, these are the key words Mr. Fredrick Hendrick Karanganwa, the Director of Programs at Open Democracy and Sustainable Development initiative (ODESUDI) echoed while providing training to District information officers in a workshop organized by the Rwanda Association of Local Authorities (RALGA).

This training comes following discussion held between ODESUDI and RALGA at RALGA’s office premises in March 2015 where the two parties agreed to mutually support each other in creating awareness and building the capacity of local authorities on access to information and utilization of access to information website.
The workshop was held on 29th of July 2015 at Palace hotel in Kigali and brought together District information officers (DIOs) and a number of journalists from Pax press. The training was aimed at building the capacity of local authorities on FOI and @sobanukirwa as well as to ensure that citizens can have access to the right contact details of the district information officers through sobanukirwa website. This workshop comes after some progress in putting in place infrastructures to facilitate citizens’ access to information. For instance, ODESUDI has put in place a Toll free telephone line to accompany the website as promised in the previous meeting between the two institutions.

While training District Information officers (DIOs), Mr. Fredrick emphasized the need for proactive disclosure as per article 7 of Law n° 04/2013 of 08/02/2013 relating to access to information and article 2 of Ministerial order n° 006/07.01/13 of 19/12/2013 determining in details the information to be disclosed. He also urged the District Information officers to respect the Law by responding to request from the Public. He informed them that this is also to their own advantage as it will contribute to development of their districts and the country at large. However, he also pointed out that the Law has binding powers and ignorance of the Law is no excuse, and it is good for DIOs to be Law abiding and accountable leaders and citizens without waiting for the strong arm of the judiciary to intervene. He encouraged information officers to engage with ODESUDI to ensure that it has their right contact details on sobanukirwa. Sobanukirwa is an access to information website that was created by ODESUDI in partnership with Tumenye a local company.

Mr. Fredrick said that access to information is not an end in its self but a tool to access other rights, whether social, economic or political. It is also a tool to promote accountable governance and strong democratic institutions. He informed DIOs that, as the name public servant denotes, you are servants of the Local communities and Rwandan Citizens at large, now imagine if your boss sent you somewhere and you decide not to provide feedback, how would that sound?

He also projected a success story in access to information whereby information requested from the ministry of health through was used in creating a world map on the location of health facilities and he mentioned that it is not important for DIOs to ask the applicant why they need information, you can never know why someone needs information, neither did the ministry of health was informed the rationale behind the request, but it was used to create a map which is important to the world in general and to Rwanda in particular.

Mr. Fredrick concluded by saying that: “As the bible says, let’s do to others what we wish to be done to us, today you are information officers, but tomorrow you will be ordinary citizens who may need information from districts, and even for the moment DIOs may need to seek information from other public institutions and some private bodies”.

John Bosco Rushingabigwi from Ralga basing on the presentation from ODESUDI also urged district information officers about the need to update their contact details on sobanukirwa and he appreciated the contribution of ODESUDI in the promoting access to information in Rwanda. He said that the team at ODESUDI was among the first advocates on access to information during media and access to information legal reforms. He said that it was important to create this opportunity for information officers to learn their roles and responsibilities in relation to access to information. He also urged information officers to provide accurate information as providing wrong information has devastating consequences.

Basing on the point raised by John Bosco, Mr. Fredrick advised District Information officers to apply for extension of time frame from the Ombudsman in case they need more time to get information or to make a transfer of the request to the right public institution if they don’t have the information as per article 3 and 4 of the Ministerial order Nº 007/07.01/13 OF 27/12/2013 determining the time limit for the provision of information or explanations for not providing it respectively.