28 September 2019 at 9:11 am
September 28th marks the UNESCO International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI). A day set aside internationally to advocate and encourage greater information transparency. This year, under the theme “Leaving No One Behind”, UNESCO aims to address inequality exasperate by the digital transformation of our era.
In recognition of this significant international moment, the Access to Information Network, a body of civil society organisations that collectively strive to advance access to information rights for ordinary people in South Africa, released the Access to Information Network’s 9th Shadow Report covering the period June 2017 to July 2018. The shadow reports, prepared annually by the Network, track requests for information made to public and private bodies by members of the Network, and documents the experiences and challenges faced by members using the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 (PAIA). The reports also make important recommendations aimed at improving the use and implementation of PAIA and further advancing the right to access information.
Some key findings include:
- In total, 191 PAIA requests were made by member organisations. Out of these 191 requests, 169 PAIA requests (88,4%) were submitted to public bodies
- 45% of all requests sent to public bodies received responses within the statutory time frame
- Out of 169 PAIA requests submitted to public bodies, 40.8% were actively granted access (either in full or in part)
As a member of the ATI Network, the Centre for Environmental Rights welcomes the release of this report. In this 9th Shadow Report, the CER details its experience with requesting information from a number of mining companies and illustrates the hoops through which civil society must often jump in order to gain access information from private companies. For example, in 2018, the CER submitted a number of requests to mining companies with the aim of assessing whether those companies were in fact complying with the conditions of their water use licenses. The result was the publication of the 2019 Full Disclosure 4 report which paints a grim picture of gross violations and water pollution by these mining companies.
Now more than ever, the link between this information and the right of all South Africans to a healthy environment is evident. Accessing information from private bodies, such as mining companies, is crucial to the CER’s work in assessing whether corporates comply with their environmental authorisations, in ensuring that the environment and people are not negatively impacted by their activities, and in holding those corporates accountable for non-compliance with environmental laws. The right to access information is fundamental to the protection of our other constitutional rights – and our section 24 right to a healthy environment is no exception.
Author: Zahra Omar, Attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights