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Centre for Environmental Rights – Advancing Environmental Rights in South Africa

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Quick Guide to Using PAIA

Access to information is a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution. The Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA) is a piece of legislation which gives effect to this Constitutional right and provides a procedure and set of rules which are supposed to make it easy and clear to everyone what information can be accessed and how it can be accessed.

In terms of PAIA, all state departments and private companies of a certain size are required to publish a PAIA Manual. PAIA Manuals are very useful documents because they explain who you must submit your request for access to information to (i.e. who the “information officer” of the particular body is), and they provide the relevant contact details of that person.

The first thing which you should therefore do when looking for a particular record is to find the PAIA Manual for the relevant state or private body (this document should be on their website, but a general internet search is often quicker). We always recommend that you check the information in a PAIA Manual by phoning the particular body to confirm that the details are correct. If you cannot find a PAIA Manual for a particular body, then you should phone that body to find out who the correct person is to submit your request to. When dealing with public bodies, the information officer will generally be the Director General of that body, or the Head of Department or Municipal Manager (when dealing with a Municipality). There are, however, often junior officials within these departments who are responsible for various administrative aspects relating to PAIA requests, such as receiving payment, assigning reference numbers or referring the request to the right directorate. Submitting your requests to these officials (in addition to the designated information officer) is the fastest way to get your request on the right desk! When dealing with private bodies, the head of the private body is the information officer. With private bodies, it is often their legal department that will be responsible for administering the request, so it’s a good idea to first find out whether the private body has a legal department that you can speak to.

When you submit a request to a public body, you must fill out Form A, and when you submit a request to a private body you must fill out Form C. The South African History Archives (SAHA) has prepared a useful guide on how to fill out these forms and how to submit your PAIA request. To access this guide, and copies of Form A and Form C, visit SAHA’s website.

It may be the case that copies of the documents you require are automatically available to the public without requiring the submission of a PAIA request. Each state department’s PAIA Manual must contain a description of the records which are available without having to submit a PAIA request. The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) has, for example, committed to making a wide range of information automatically available, including copies of environmental authorisations, waste management licences, atmospheric emission licences, and Biodiversity Act permits. Similarly, the Department of Water and Sanitation has committed to making copies of water use licence applications, water use licences, and audit and compliance reports available to the public automatically