Report Scores Compliance With South Africa Access Law

4 February 2015

Government compliance with South Africa’s 15-year-old Promotion of Access to Information Act is in a “sorry state,” according to one summary of a recently released “shadow report” by the PAIA Civil Society Network.

“Its findings show that while patterns of compliance are not as dire as has been the case in recent years and there have been some notable breakthroughs in strengthening the right of access to information through the courts, developing a culture of openness and transparency in South Africa still requires significant work,” according to the announcement.

The researchers found “a slight improvement” in the level of responses to requests made using PAIA, but concluded that “compliance with the Act remains low.”

“In fact, over half of requests made to government departments for information were denied,” according to the report. It elaborated:

The most common reason given for refusal was that the records requested did not exist or could not be found, a persistently worrying indication of the poor record-keeping in these departments. A further quarter of the requests for information received no response whatsoever from government. The private sector has likewise been unresponsive, with less than half of all requests receiving a reply within the statutory timeframes.

The PAIA CSN called on senior government officials “to make resources available for PAIA training, to champion proactive disclosure in line with South Africa’s international obligations, and to appoint and establish an Information Regulator as a matter of urgency to effectively administer and monitor PAIA compliance.”

Gabriella Razzano, head of legal research at Open Democracy Advice Centre, commented:

The sorry state of PAIA is strong support for the need for an effective and accessible Information Regulator to be established as a matter of urgency. It is indeed disappointing when we consider government’s express commitments to transparency as expressed through their position as Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee, that the implementation of PAIA still seems to be an insignificant task for many government departments.

Catherine Kennedy, Director of the South African History Archive, said the law “is being thwarted by a failure to implement and maintain records management systems.”

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services was found to be a particularly poor performer.

The PAIA CSN is a collective of non-governmental organizations including the Centre for Environmental Rights, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Corruption Watch, the Khulumani Support Group, the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the Public Service Accountability Monitor and the South African History Archive.

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