The applicants in this matter were the Freedom of Expression institute (“FXI”) and Mr Ebrahim Harvey (“Mr Harvey”) who was a researcher attached to the University of the Witwatersrand. His studies were focused on corporatisation of water and sanitation services in the Johannesburg area. The respondents in the matter were the City of Johannesburg, The Johannesburg water management (Pty) Ltd, Daycon Technologies (the company that monitored the management contracts of the second respondents) and the Minister of Justice. This application was an application to court in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (“PAIA”).
The application was made by FXI and Ebrahim Harvey, following efforts since April 2003 to compel Johannesburg Water (JW) to grant access to 16 documents, to enable him to complete a Master’s Degree at the University of the Witwatersrand on the impact of Johannesburg’s IGoli 2002 plan on the delivery of water (which led to the formation of JW as a corporate entity). Mr Harvey has made numerous attempts prior to approaching the FXI to request the information to which he got varied responses but none that served the purpose. He went on to formally request access in terms of section 18 of PAIA. Failure of this attempt prompted Mr Harvey to contact the FXI.
Some of the documents as sought by Mr Harvey were availed to him, however were not complete and thus he instituted the legal action to obtain the others. At a later stage however an amenable settlement was reached between the parties and the matter was subsequently withdrawn.
FXI’s interest in the matter was regarding the implications the case would have on access to public information and research practices in future, particularly in relation to the provisions of basic services by local government; this in turn shows how transparency that flows from disclosure of information is essential to ensure public accountability. By and large this case showed the effect of The PAIA legislation in our Democracy.