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Access to information key to enhancement of democracy

28 September 2015

“There really are, in essence, two types of information that the law must provide for. On the one hand, we have information which is held by the state and which people need to access their rights. On the other hand we have personal information personal information and data must be protected.

This is according to Justice and Constitutional Development Deputy Minister, Mr John Jeffery, speaking at the National Information Officer’s Forum in Pretoria today. The forum was organised to celebrate International Right to Information Day.

The purpose of this forum is to create a platform to raise awareness, engage with experts in the field and cultivate a culture for social justice and respect for human rights through implementation of Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) 2 of 2000 in the public sector.

Deputy Minister Jeffery said that PAIA is very important in our democracy and people need to be educated about it so that they can use it to better their livelihoods. A recent report by Open Democracy Advisory Centre revealed that people may know about PAIA, but they don't use it.  Some 81% of those questioned in the research knew about the Promotion of Access to Information Act, but only 24% have made requests. Among respondents who have not used PAIA, the most common reason (62,5%) for not making a PAIA request was a belief that they would not get a response.

He noted that since the passage of the PAIA, compliance by public bodies with regard to the submission of section 32 reports has been low. “Public bodies have a mandatory duty in terms of PAIA to provide the Human Rights Commission with information about the requests for information they have received and processed each year.  We believe that the newly established institution of an Information Regulator, with the enforcement powers assigned to it, will be able to improve compliance with PAIA and address the challenges facing PAIA implementation”, he said.

He emphasized that the Information Regulator has a crucial role to play in processing the set of information that is consumed by the public or interested bodies whether it is too personal for public consumption or not and that is guided by Protection of Personal Information Act.

“Privacy is a valuable aspect of a person’s personality, for that reason the definition of personal information is as wide as possible, including amongst others, everything from race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, language, employment history, email and telephone number, location and biometric information”, he added.

The Regulator as the sole functionary, apart from the courts, will consider complaints against decisions that have been taken by public or private bodies in respect of requests for access to records of the bodies concerned.

These establishments are part of government’s efforts to enhance democracy and safeguard constitutional rights of all South Africans.

Issued by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development  

Enquiries: Advocate Mthunzi Mhaga
Spokesperson for the for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional services
083 641 8141