Compliance With South African Law Found Weak

20 December 2013

Compliance with the South African access to information law has “decreased from the already worryingly low levels of compliance,” according to a new report.

The 2013 “shadow report” was issued by the PAIA CSN, the civil society network that monitors the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

“Only 16% of information requested was released in full in the past year, down from 35% in 2009.” the report states. “Furthermore, timeframes for responses under PAIA continue to be flouted – only 22% of responses met the statutory timeframes at the initial request stage.”

The study, which covers the period July 2012 to August 2013, also found:

“An alarming 65% of all requests for information made to those public bodies who actually responded to the requests were refused. 54% of requests simply went unanswered, demonstrating a notable increase in the outright failure to respond since 2011.

The most commonly cited ground for refusal by public bodies was that records do not exist or cannot be found. “Not only does poor record-keeping within public bodies prejudice the right of access to information, but it undermines institutional memory and learning,” according the report.

The PAIA CSN called for more resources to be allocated to establish efficient record-keeping systems and to engage and train staff to manage PAIA requests.

Among other findings, the majority of public bodies “are failing in their statutory duties to make PAIA manuals available and to do so in at least three official languages, despite this obligation having been in effect for over a decade.” The PAIA CSN calls for all state bodies to comply with the requirement to publish PAIA manuals so as to enable the public to understand how to go about accessing information.

More proactive disclosure is also urged.

The private sector’s response to information requests “was equally worrying, with a refusal rate of 75% of requests made to private bodies by PAIA Network members, a rate that is unlikely to change unless improved compliance from public bodies compels private bodies to follow suit.”

The report is based on the experiences of the following PAIA CSN members in submitting over 250 PAIA requests during the reporting period: the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the Centre for Environmental Rights, Corruption Watch, the Khulumani Support Group, Public Service Accountability Monitor and the South African History Archive.

Download the PAIA CSN Shadow Report 2013

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