Government vow to be more responsive at the National Information Officers Forum
On Monday, 28th September 2015, the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) hosted the 12th annual National Information Officers Forum (NIOF). The event fell on the international “Right to Know” day. The NIOF has become a prominent feature in the calendar of the access to information community and the event has provided a safe space for implementers to have frank conversations about their perceptions, capacities, challenges and best practices in complying with PAIA.
The theme of the NIOF was “Working towards an Open Government - Connecting the Dots”, premised on the principles set out in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which South Africa is a founding member of. The OGP principles are closely linked with South Africa’s own Constitutional principles, the objectives of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) as well as various other existing government initiatives, such as the Management Performance Assessment Tool (MPAT) and the Back to Basics approach.
In her opening address, the Deputy Chairperson of the SAHRC spoke about the wide ranging impact that non-compliance with PAIA (and violation of the right of access to information) has, especially on the most vulnerable in society. Impact ranges across the human rights spectrum, from the right to food, access to water and sanitation, housing, and violations by the private sector. The Deputy Chairperson indicated that continuing poor compliance levels, together with the expectation that the public sector should have by now moved beyond mere technical compliance, led the SAHRC to select Golden Key awardees on a more substantive basis. The potential for frameworks such as the MPAT and the Back to Basics approach were also highlighted insofar as they presented an opportunity for increased compliance and accountability.
Input from the Deputy Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Honourable Mr Buti Manamela, and the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Honourable Mr John Jeffery, set the scene for the day’s discussions. Both Deputy Ministers emphasised the need for government to play its part towards increasing transparency. At the same time, continuing poor levels of compliance within the public sphere were lamented.
Presentations by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, the Auditor General of South Africa and the Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation centred around existing frameworks that could assist with improving levels of compliance. Examples included the Back to Basics approach aimed at improving service delivery at local government level. In this regard, the critical role played by municipalities which are at the coalface of service delivery was noted. At the provincial and national level, the standards set out in the MPAT were seen as an effective means of monitoring levels of compliance with PAIA as well as increasing government accountability. Discussions during the course of the day brought to the fore the multi-faceted government led project to increase transparency, accountability and openness within government; and the responsibility of public officials to uphold those principles in their own work.
Eleven new members were appointed to the National Coordinating Committee (NCC). They will serve a 2 year term, ending in 2017. The elections were followed by the Golden Key Awards ceremony where the SAHRC sought to recognize substantive compliance of PAIA by public bodies. This constitutes a shift from past years when only technical compliance was awarded. As substantive compliance can only be measured through the actual experience of users of the legislation, award selection was guided by input received from members of the PAIA Civil Society Network (PAIA CSN) as active users of PAIA. Feedback regarding the experience of requesters when using PAIA, the proactive disclosure of records by the public bodies, timely responses and the willingness of public bodies to meaningfully engage with requesters were some of the key elements considered in the nomination and award process. Based on the above, the following awardees were identified:
Most active civil society user
- South African History Archive
Most responsive public bodies:
- National Archive of South Africa
- National Department of Environmental Affairs
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