Ordinary people – citizens and non-citizens alike – have the right to get information held by government entities and private corporations. We look at how to go about making a PAIA request.
Mama Masisa Mkwanazi* 54, is a single mother of five. A domestic worker, she lives with her children in her brother’s home in Mqantsa, Tembisa. She has never owned her own home.
In 1996, Mkwanazi, inspired by a new democracy, applied for an RDP house. In 2008, her dream of owning her own home was boosted when she was informed that she needed to go to the Lethabong municipal building to sign a housing subsidy document, the application form for an RDP house.
A year later and with no word on the status of her application, Mkwanazi enquired at the authorities in Tembisa and was referred to the Department of Human Settlements’ provincial office in the south of Johannesburg. “I went to Alberton and they said my subsidy had failed, but they didn’t say why,” she says.
Unfortunately Mkwanazi’s case is similar to many of the reports Corruption Watch receives from poor South Africans who end up waiting their whole lives for a promise of a home that remains unfulfilled.
But if a person has applied for an RDP home, there are measures to check what is happening with the application. With access to government documents, such as the official government document stating why someone was denied an RDP home, South Africans can arm themselves with the information that is needed to get what was promised to them.
The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was made a law in 2000. It gives citizens and non-citizens a legal right to get information held by government entities and private corporations.
Using the information Mkwanazi gave to Corruption Watch, and at her request, our incident reporter has filled out a PAIA application on her behalf, and hopes to get some answers. The example has had information changed to protect the reporter’s private details.
The PAIA allows individuals and organisations to ask for records from the state and private entities that already exist, such as documents, pictures, and audio files. When completing a PAIA form, it’s important to remember what is being requested. In most cases, the more specific the request, the better the chance of getting a positive response. However, there are circumstances when specific requests will be rejected, for example to protect state security or the privacy of a third party.
There are three types of PAIA request form. Form A, which we have used for Mkwanazi, is to be completed when submitting an application to a government body. Form B is to be competed if the government body refuses the request and you want to appeal the decision, and Form C, which is to be used when applying for information from a private entity.
With Form A, you will also need the information officer’s name and the address of the department from which you are requesting information. This person should be easily accessible because all government departments are required to produce a PAIA manual to help the public complete requests for information. Before going to the department, try phoning to find out the name of the information officer. In Mkwanazi’s example, the Department of Human Settlements’ information officer is Elias Sithole.
If you are applying for information on behalf of another person, you will need a copy of that person’s identification documents or passport and a letter of authorisation. Again, in the “Particulars of record” section, make sure you know what document you are seeking. Submitting a general request will not yield any results.
If you want photocopies of the documents, you will have to pay a fee. The department will notify you of the amount. However, if you are prepared to go to the government offices responsible for the documents, you can view the documents for free.Importantly, the last section of the request form asks you how you want to receive the information. Ask to be phoned and to be notified by letter. This way, the government official has to call you and inform you in writing of the decision. Make sure your contact details are accurate.
If possible, contact the information officer and ask about the best way to deliver your PAIA request.Download the Promotion of Access to Information Act Form A here.
For a guide how to fill out a PAIA request, click here.
*Not her real name