Promotion of Access to Information
Objectives and key functions-overview of past and current projects
For the last 12 years, the South African Human Rights Commission has been at the forefront of promoting, monitoring and protecting the right of access to information of everyone. These have been done through the Commission’s powers derived from the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The Commission’s mandate has been implemented with very limited financial and human resources but despite that, the Commission in fulfillment of its promotion mandate, conducts workshops for public officials on request from public institutions. In the last financial year, April 2011 to March 2012, the Commission conducted 33 workshops and trained 1065 Deputy Information Officers (DIOs) of public institutions.
Through PAIA workshops and training, we achieve the objectives of educating public officials on the objectives of PAIA, compliance obligations and their duty to implement PAIA in their respective institutions. Since the inception of PAIA, the Commission has noticed trends of consistent non compliance with PAIA and the absence of implementation. Furthermore, results of compliance monitoring interventions show that PAIA is not given priority in public bodies. Noting that public bodies are holders of information and have a direct impact on the ability of a right holder to exercise the right to information, the Commission trains holders of information so as to ensure that they are able to respond to requests for information and assist right holders to exercise their rights accordingly. Through these sessions, DIOs are empowered with skills to enable them to understand the application of PAIA, interpret PAIA and follow the appropriate procedures when responding to a request for information lodged in terms of PAIA.
The training further intends on addressing a psychological mindset of protecting government information from public access. Taking note of the impact and effect of this mindset on both the holder of the information and the right holder, these issues are addressed at the workshops which are conducted at the offices of the public body that has requested training. The session runs for a full day and is structured in a manner that imparts both theoretical information and practical implementation; the first session is dedicated to application, interpretation and implementation of PAIA. Reference to case law and the relevant practical examples are used to assist in putting theory in context. The second session is more practical, which includes a discussion session, screening of a DVD linking access to information with the realization of socio economic rights and role playing. These practical exercises enable DIOs to see the practical implementation of PAIA and to see access to information from the perspective of a requester for information.
On the other side of training are the community interventions that the PAIA unit conducts. The unit has developed a community tool for PAIA training which is used in empowering communities on exercising their right of access to information.
Aside from training, the PAIA Unit has over the last five years conducted compliance audits for public institutions on the state of implementation in the respective public departments. The results from the audit inform the Unit’s work on how to engage with the management of these public institutions to drive implementation in their respective departments.
For the last decade, the PAIA Unit has been hosting the National Information Officers Forum (NIOF). The aim of this Forum is to provide capacity building tools to DIOs support implementation of the law, create networking opportunities, provide insight on practical challenges and to show case best practices. Linked to the NIOF is the golden key research that the Commission conducts on an annual basis. The aim of this research is to assess the statutory compliance on PAIA by public institutions, the state of their records management, internal mechanisms that have been established to ensure the effective implementation of the law and the amount of resources that have been dedicated to the implementation of the law in the various public departments.
The success of the NIOF has led to the replication of this model in the provinces. As at the last financial year (2011-2012), the Unit had established information officers forum in six provinces.
Law reform and legislative monitoring is a core function of the Unit and comprehensive submissions that have been made to both Parliament and the Department of Justice include recommendations for the amendment of PAIA, inputs on the Protection of State Information Bill and the Protection of Personal Information Bill.
The Unit also performs a mediation and conciliatory role between public institutions and complainants who have been refused access to information.
Profile of acting head of PAIA
Kisha Candasamy is the acting head of the Promotion of Access to Information Unit at the South African Human Rights Commission. Kisha was previously employed as a senior legal officer in the Gauteng provincial office of the Commission. Prior to her employment with the Commission, Kisha practiced as an attorney in various law firms and subsequently headed up the general law department at ProBono.Org. She is a practicing attorney registered with the Law Society of the Northern Provinces. She holds an LLB from the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and completed her LLM in International Human Rights at the University of Witwatersrand. She is currently enrolled at the Gordon Institute of Business Science.
Acting Head of PAIA Unit-Kisha Candasamy
Public Sector Compliance Officer-Nokwanda Molefe
PAIA Admin Secretary- Lindiwe Dlamini
Unit contact details
Contact Details: 0118773803
For detailed information about PAIA click here