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New report reveals shocking failure to uphold right of access to information

- Lee-Anne Bruce

New research by the Access to Information Network (ATI Network) has revealed a shocking dereliction of duties by public and private bodies to realise South Africans’ constitutional right of access to information.

The Shadow Report 2016 was compiled with statistics from requests for information made using the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) by the 13 civil society organisations which make up the ATI Network. The Report covers the period 1 August 2015 to 31 July 2016, during which ATI Network members submitted 369 PAIA requests to government and private bodies. Key findings of the Shadow Report 2016 are:

  • 46% of requests submitted to government were refused – i.e. no information was provided.
  • 58% of these refusals were deemed refusals – i.e. the requests were ignored.
  • Only 34% of requests submitted to government were granted in full.
  • 64% of the appeals submitted to government were deemed to have been dismissed – i.e. the appeals were ignored.
  • 67% of requests submitted to private companies were refused – i.e. no information was provided.
  • Only 13% of requests submitted to private companies were granted in full.

These findings, in particular the number of PAIA requests and appeals which are simply ignored by government, are deeply concerning.  They point to a clear failure by both public and private bodies to realise our right of access to information.

We are, however, encouraged by the progress made in the extent to which certain public bodies are expanding the number and categories of records which they will make automatically available to the public, i.e. without the need to submit a PAIA request.

It is in the State’s interests to make information widely, publicly and automatically available. Making information automatically available not only significantly reduces the number of PAIA requests submitted, and therefore reduces the associated administrative burden, it also increases public trust in and cooperation with decision-makers.

The Shadow Report 2016 contains the following key recommendations:

  • Public bodies must be encouraged to broaden their categories of automatically available information, and all such information should be placed on their websites.
  • All licences should include a condition requiring the licence holder to make a copy of its licence available on its website or to anyone on request.
  • Greater adherence to the severability clauses in PAIA would promote the objectives of PAIA while protecting information that should not be disclosed.
  • The terms “trade secrets” and “commercial information” in PAIA should be clearly defined, to prevent their use as unsubstantiated excuses for failing to disclose records which should be publicly available.
  • Capacity constraints within public bodies need to be addressed to ensure that the obligations under PAIA can be met.

About the ATI Network

The ATI Network, formerly known as the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) Civil Society 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
  • Right2Know
  • South African History Archive
  • Wits Justice Project        

For more about this report, please contact:

  • Toerien van Wyk
  • Acting SAHA Directorate and FOIP Coordinator
  • 011 718 2563