Friday, 30 August 2013 was the second World Records Day launching a year long commitment to mobilising those with ‘Professional Pride as a Vehicle to Strengthen Records Management'.
This quietly growing movement recognises that there is almost no ability to read, to learn - or to know - if the information has not been recorded in the first place.
When records exist and have been filed in a searchable way, that information can be requested under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA). However, without good record management to organise and make sure that recorded information is retrievable when needed, these records may as well not have existed in the first place.
By way of example, on 22 August 2012 the South Gauteng High Court issued an order requiring the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MPTA) to release records to SA Airlink (Pty) Limited in terms of PAIA.
The case is noteworthy for its revelation of the poor record keeping and information systems practices. MTPA's responses to various communications and PAIA requests over a three year period demonstrate the impact of poor record keeping and information system practices on the right to information afforded by PAIA.
Such failures in information systems management and record keeping are not unique to MTPA, nor do these problems represent a new obstruction in the realisation of the right to information. In the SAHA publication Paper Wars: Access to Information in South Africa, former manager of the SAHA Freedom of Information Programme, Kate Allan, highlighted the poor record keeping practices of public bodies:
"It is apparent ... that since transition, records management has been poor. This is apparent even in bodies such as the South African Police Service (SAPS) , which fervently implement PAIA; in response to a request for access to records relating to Operation Crackdown, a highly publicised operation targeting organised crime, SAHA was informed that numerous records at all levels of SAPS - that is, area, provincial and national levels - could not be found despite having been created in 2005. Similarly, upon a request for access to records relating to the repatriation of the remains of Saartjie Baartman, the Department of Arts and Culture acknowledged that a number of key documents had been misplaced."
As we choose to exercise our right to access information, we are increasingly reliant on the professionalism of people in all walks of life to record essential decisions and processes, and then to file those records in a readily accessible manner.
Information obtained under PAIA can be used to monitor and hold accountable those that have the role and power to make decisions that affect us all. That information can be used to make an informed contribution to the public debate needed to resolve some of the world's increasingly complex problems, or even the smaller ones that occur in our own backyard.
As we move into the so-called ‘Information Age', and become expert managers and miners of information, that access to information will enable all South Africans to become active participants in shaping our communities and our own lives.
So this year, as part of the second World Records Day, we acknowledge and encourage the professional people that are the ‘quiet achievers' - who record information - so that others might know and understand.