Access to Information
The access to information programme aims to address practical problems in ensuring much greater usage of, the Constitutional right of access to information. This is especially so with respect to the Act that gives effect to the right, namely the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). Presently, for a variety of reasons the Act risks becoming an elite instrument, with usage being restricted mainly to middle class individuals and a handful of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO’s). Much more work needs to be done to ensure the social appropriation of this right.
The programme intends to achieve this by focussing on access to information about the state of delivery of basic services, such as water and waster management, electricity, health and transport. Access to these services is being recognized increasingly as a basic human right; in fact the South African Constitution recognizes these rights and places a positive obligation on the government to realize these rights progressively.
Such basic services are being delivered increasingly on a regional basis, as well as on a commercial basis by South African public and private companies. In doing so, they draw on the ‘free trade’ opportunities being created by the Southern African Development Community (SAD) initiative to establish a free trade area in the region, as well as similar development at continental level under the auspices of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).
This change in the mode of delivery of services is leading to them becoming increasingly unforgettable to the poor, who are increasing in numbers as globalisation intensifies. As a result, struggles are emerging around access to affordable services, including around access to information on the activities and plans of these companies. The focus of this programme is to empower individuals, NGO’s and social movements to use South Africa ‘s right of access to information to inform these struggles.
The programme will also concentrate on access to information held by the private sector, where the private sector is involved in the delivery of basic services, or where the private sector prevents access to a basic socioeconomic right.
In the process of addressing the information needs of South Africa ‘s increasingly Americanised parts of the working class – bearing in mind that approximately 45% of the countries economically active population is unemployed – the procedures of accessing information will need to be changed, which may well result in amendments to the Act. Broadening the access regime will also have benefits for the region, insofar as information can be deceased on South African public and private sector service providers, to arm activists in the region.
These amendment-related activities will be undertaken in partnership with other Non-governmental Organisations (NGO’s) working in the access to information field, in circumstances where there is a common interest in realising these amendments. This partnership approach enhances the effectiveness of lobbying, and should ensure maximum effect on a national level. Partnerships will also be developed to share legal support in the event that litigation is necessary to achieve these amendments, as legal support is a notoriously expensive undertaking. Through the development of a shared legal network of attorneys and advocates, it should be possible for participating organisations to bring their legal costs down.
The programme will undertake three interrelated activities to realise the above objectives:
- Public education on the existence of the Constitutional right and the Act, working through organisations and social movements that are engaged in struggles around access to basic services.
- A focused project involving the assistance of the individuals, organisations and social movements with information requests on the activities of South African public and private companies involved in the delivery of basic services, and lobbying these companies to ensure compliance with the Constitutional provision around access to information.
- In partnership with other organisations working in the field, a campaign to change the information access regime to ensure proper usage by those most affected by the delivery of basic services and government policy on these services.