Are you witnessing corruption but don’t know what to do about it? Ask the team of Corruption Watch experts what to do by writing to: email@example.com and mark your letter 'Dear Corruption Watch'.
Dear Corruption Watch
There are some dodgy dealings going on in the municipality where I live. The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has issued a report – that was commented on in the media – that implicates municipal officials. I have read the media reports but would like to read the SIU report because I suspect that some of the officials implicated are still employed by the municipality. I have written to the SIU to no avail. What can I do? – Concerned Resident
Dear concerned resident
South Africa's Constitution gives every person the right of access to information, held by the state, or a state department, that is required for the exercise or protection of any right.
The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) explains how to request information from government departments. Under PAIA, all government departments must appoint an information officer who is responsible for receiving and processing requests for access to information from the public.
Your request for a copy of the SIU report must be submitted to the information officer. You can obtain the name and contact details of the information officer of the SIU from the SIU itself or from the SA Human Rights Commission.
Your request needs to be in a specific format. You can obtain the form from the information officer who must assist in completing the form if you need assistance.
If you are illiterate or disabled and unable to make a written request, the information officer must assist you to make an oral request.
If you earn below R14 712 a year or you and your partners combined income is less than R27 192 per year, you will not have to pay a request fee with your application.
You will also not have to pay a request fee if your request for information is a request for your personal information. In all other instances a fee of R35.00 needs to accompany your request.
A public body has 30 days to respond to your request, although this may be extended for a further period of 30 days. If access to information is refused, you have 60 days to appeal against the decision.
One of the requirements of PAIA is that access to information must be necessary for the protection of a right. In other words, in order to satisfy the requirements of PAIA, you must show that you need a copy of the SIU’s report to protect a right.
This is not an easy requirement to meet – especially when dealing with state entities like the SIU. The SIU investigates maladministration and corruption in state institutions. SIU investigation reports often implicate individuals in criminal activities or corruption and may result in criminal prosecutions or asset forfeiture proceedings. The SIU may be reluctant to release its report for fear of jeopardizing any future investigations or to protect the confidentiality of witnesses.
In exceptional instances, the SIU will be compelled to release a report if it is in the public interest.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) is responsible under PAIA for compiling a guide on how individuals can access information. The guide includes the postal and street address, phone and fax number and email address of every information officer of every public body; and the manner and form that a request for information must take.
If you are in any doubt as to how to go about making this request or if you are concerned that you do not meet the requirements, you should contact the South African Human Rights Commission for assistance.
Take a stand and report an incident of corruption. This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times Business Times on 7 October 2012.
Find out what steps to follow if you need to request a copy of a Special Investigative Unit (SIU) report.