South Africa’s access-to-information provisions appear to be failing as two out of three formal requests for information are refused, says Right2Know in its recently released Secret State of the Nation report, detailing the state of secrecy and openness in the country.
“If compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) is a litmus test for the state of government and corporate accountability, the signs are worrying,” says R2K. Read more about Corruption Watch’s dealings with Paia here.
“In 2012, the South African History Archive (Saha) surveyed all the Paia requests that they had administered in the past year: of 159 requests for information held by various public and private bodies, 102 were either outright refused or simply received no answer (which is a deemed refusal under the law) – or 64%. This suggests a genuine crisis in the mechanisms that are meant to ensure the public’s right to know,” says R2K.
“As a mark of the long and costly process of forcing better compliance with the provisions of Paia, on the same day as the State of the Nation Address last week, the Mail&Guardian finally won a court battle to access a report to then-President Mbeki on the 2002 Zimbabwean elections – four years after their Paia application was refused.
“However, 2013 will see the passing of an amendment to Paia gives new recourse to people seeking access, in the form of an information commissioner that will have legal powers to force bodies to comply with Paia requests. But this is not enough, if the underlying problem is a lack of commitment to openness on the side of information holders.
“Information should be released proactively, in an open and accessible form, and Paia should only be a last resort. While the ‘big ticket’ secrets get much attention, many South African are denied much more basic information that they need in their daily lives and struggles.
“From data related to housing lists, to the water licences of all mining operations, many civic organisations and community groups are seeking information that should already be available online and in every municipal office.
R2K: how to fix it
- Government and the private sector must commit to proactive release of open data, and ensure all officials comply with the letter and spirit of access-to-information laws.
- Find out more at www.r2k.org.za/info-access-now and see the Open Data & Democracy Initiative.