17 November 2009

The Rusty Padlock Award

On 17 November 2009 the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) presented the Rusty Padlock Awards, an event which SAHA attended. These ‘awards' mark consistently poor performers in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) in the public sector. To determine these awards ODAC used an index based on four key areas of PAIA compliance which were: the roadmap of the body to deal with requests and PAIA matters; the strength of records management in the institution; the internal mechanisms of the organisations for dealing with PAIA; and the resources allocated to PAIA management.

This investigation (this year of 88 different units, which included National Departments, Provincial Departments and Municipalities) revealed that, of all those approached, 61% gave no response at all. This ‘muteness' on such a large scale has depressing implications for the importance bodies are placing on the public's right to know. Even more worrying was the discovery that some of the worst performing bodies were those involved in service delivery, which are the very same bodies that the public most requires information from in order to better their everyday lives.

The ‘winner' of this year's Rusty Padlock Award was the Department of Health. This was because not only did they fail to give any form of response to a Request, but they have also failed consistently over the past three years to file the section 72 compliance reports to the South African Human Rights Commission that the law compels them to do. Further, they have actively engaged in fruitless litigation, against organisations such as the Treatment Action Campaign, to prevent organisations accessing information they have a right to and have repeatedly failed to respond in previous years to ODAC's requests as well. As a key service deliverer, it is hoped that this ‘award' will serve as inspiration to the Department of Health to make its responsibilities in terms of PAIA a priority for their future performance.