in the first quarter of 2014, SAHA received positive responses from public and private bodies for release of documents that were requested as far back as 2012 and 2013. Many of these documents requested under Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 were released long after they were supposed to be provided, often after lengthy internal appeals and a lot of follow-ups.
SAHA is now able to share some of these records with all those that have an interest in them through the Freedom of Information Programme (FOIP) Collection archived at our offices at Constitution Hill.
SAHA has received documents from City of Johannesburg that were requested in 2012 for their five-year plans around job creation, land and housing as well as health, including budgets for Soweto.
While SAHA is pleased that these documents have been made available, these types of records should arguably be made available by local government as a matter of course as part of promoting transparency and good governance. The PAIA Civil Society Network (PAIA CSN) has previously called for more proactive disclosure of information by government departments, suggesting that many types of records should not only be made available through the formal PAIA request process, but should instead be made publicly available on notice boards and websites.
"There are obvious benefits of a more proactive approach by public bodies to disclosure of records that should be easily available to the public..." said Melissa Fourie, Director of Centre for Environmental Rights, member of PAIA CSN. These include a significantly reduced cost for public bodies and contribution to the realisation of rights for affected parties, added Melissa.
A lot of the other documents SAHA obtained over the last two months were requested by citizens who, after countless attempts, could not get private companies and/or government departments to grant them access and requested the help of SAHA in using PAIA. These include:
While the release of these records is significant for these citizens as they provide much needed evidence in their various struggles to assert their rights (in relation to such basic, fundamental issues as housing and pensions), SAHA is obliged, in line with the recently passed Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (POPI), to embargo these types of records as they generally include private information, ranging from loan and bond agreements to bank statements. POPI recognises section 14 of the Constitution of Republic of South Africa which provides that everyone has the right to privacy, and introduces limitations on both public and private bodies when it comes to sharing and processing private personal information.
SAHA hopes to receive more released documents in the next few weeks through its FOIP Programme which would be in line with the higher number of requests SAHA has made over the same period, when 29 PAIA requests were made.
If you would like to find out more about how to submit PAIA requests, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 011 718 2560/3.
To track active PAIA requests SAHA has recently submittted to public and private bodies in South Africa, visit SAHA's PAIA TRACKER online.