New Act Needs More Planing
Call it teething problems. Call it growing pains. However, it is clear that the new act on Promotion of Access to Information has since the beginning, not been applied without hiccups.
People complain about delays, red-tape, long procedures, ignorance and vagueness.
Nobody can testify better to this than Dr Richard Young, managing director of CCII Systems in Cape Town.
His arms company was initially a preferred supplier for information systems in the controversial multibillion rand arms deal. He wanted information about the final awarding of the tender to another company and has employed this act to try and obtain it.
From government's side it is argued that according to the act the information concerned did not have to be made available. Young then went to court and the Pretoria High Court ordered that the information indeed be given to him.
Yes, said Young, it is indeed a victory in accordance with the new act. It is a good act, but the ordinary man does not have the time and money to go to court to have this enforced.
It also seems that not all structures are in order. It applies especially to information officers in state departments and companies, as well as to the manuals and indexes which each institution must have regarding the type of information which should be kept.
Mr Gareth van Onselen, a researcher of the Democratic Alliance, said for example that he requested information from the Department of Sport. He was stopped because there was no information officer as prescribed by the act. Eventually he contacted the Human Rights Commission (HRC) who helped him. The HRC must, in accordance with the act, play watchdog over the provision of information.
A practical problem that is now being experienced and which cannot be ascribed to the act itself, is that masses of information from the previous regime has perished. Documents containing the information can simply not be found. Mr David Porogo, spokesperson for justice, said it is possible that information from the old regime was destroyed before the democratic elections in 1994.
A big problem with the implementation of the act at the moment is ignorance. The Open Democracy Centre (ODAC), for example, found at the beginning of the year that 54% of government officials do not know about the act. Of the 56 private companies who were involved in the investigation, very few applied it.
But give it chance, said Porogo. Officials are being trained to apply the act, but the government service is big and it takes a lot of time.
Dr Leon Wessels, member of the HRC, said the commission is currently working on a comprehensive manual on the act.
Application forms for information is available from most government departments as well as the Human Rights Commission.
With acknowledgement to Eugene Gunning and Rapport.