September 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm
Year after year, the Access to Information Network’s Shadow Report on the state of access to information in South Africa has demonstrated poor levels of compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) by government, state-owned entities (SOEs) and private companies. Today the Access to Information Network releases its annual Shadow Report for 2017, again showing that compliance levels with PAIA remain dismal, despite PAIA having been in operation for 16 years.
On this day, the UNESCO International Day for Universal Access to Information, civil society around the world recognises the importance of transparency and a culture of openness and accountability in participatory democracy. Unfortunately, the ATI Network’s Shadow Report does not provide reason to celebrate.
Statistics from PAIA requests for information submitted by members of the Access to Information Network (ATI Network) over the period 1 August 2016 till 31 July 2017 form the backbone of the report, and are supplemented by narratives of specific experiences of network members with using PAIA. A total of 408 PAIA requests were submitted to both public institutions as well as private entities during this period. The key findings of the report are as follows:
Outcomes of the requests to government departments and SOEs:
- 47.5% of requests were ignored entirely (“deemed refusals”);
- Access was granted, in full or in part, to 33.15% of requests;
- The number of inter-departmental transfers increased relative to the 2015/16 reporting period, with 11.8% of requests transferred in full or in part;
- Lack of compliance with prescribed statutory timeframes was alarming, with 65% of requests not responded to within the statutory time period of 30 days;
- The most common ground for refusal was that the requested records do not exist, and this was hardly ever confirmed by way of affidavit, as is required by PAIA; and
- The ATI Network lodged 164 internal appeals. While five of those appeals were still pending at the date of reporting, 79.25% of the appeals were simply ignored.
Outcome of requests to private companies:
- 40% of requests were ignored by private companies, or deemed refused; and
- Access was granted, in full or in part, to 31.8 % of requests.
These are the ATI Network’s recommendations to improve access to information in South Africa:
- Put in place stricter sanctions for statutory non-compliance, especially with respect to non-compliance with the statutory timeframes;
- Radically expand the proactive disclosure of records in terms of section 15 of PAIA;
- Deformalise the process by which PAIA requests are submitted. In other words, amend section 18(1) of PAIA to allow for requests to be submitted on any form that corresponds substantially with the requirements of section 18(2).
- Amend PAIA to include an emergency access to information provision for time-sensitive requests; and
- Provide adequate resources to the Information Regulator and National Archive.
About the ATI Network
The ATI Network was established in 2008 in response to the need for civil society collaboration to strengthen the effective use and implementation of PAIA, the mechanism via which our constitutional right to access information should be realised. The ATI Network currently consists of the following members (in alphabetical order):
- amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism
- Centre for Applied Legal Studies
- Centre for Environmental Rights
- Corruption Watch
- Equal Education Law Centre
- Khulumani Support Group
- Open Democracy Advice Centre
- Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism
- Public Service Accountability Monitor
- South African History Archive
- Wits Justice Project
To find out more about the report, contact
Imraan Abdullah, Freedom of Information Programme Researcher, on (011) 718 2563 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Demichelle Petherbridge, Attorney: Equal Education Law Centre, on (021) 461 1421 or email@example.com
Christine Reddell, Attorney: Centre for Environmental Rights on (021) 447 1647 or firstname.lastname@example.org