29 October 2011

Civil Society Network says PAIA is not working

The PAIA Civil Society Network (PAIA CSN) has released a review that indicates that the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) is not working.

The review, which highlights the network members' observations and recommendations based on their experience with the law, identifies challenges with PAIA that make the process of requesting information unnecessarily difficult for requesters and highly inefficient.

The failure by government departments to effectively implement PAIA is the greatest problem the PAIA CSN describes in its review. Only 25% of the requests made by members of the PAIA CSN were responded to within the time period required by the Act. Even worse, 40% of the requests did not even receive a response. In many instances where access to information was actually granted, the information was never provided by the relevant body.

The PAIA CSN has suggested that these failures are associated with a low level of PAIA education within information holders, poor record keeping practices, and a failure to establish PAIA units or train deputy information officers.

The PAIA CSN calls on the government to undertake a thorough review of PAIA from a legal and implementation perspective and makes recommendations as to what such a review should include. Those recommendations include:
• the adoption of an informal request procedure;
• removal of the request fee;
• a timeline for the provision of documents once access is granted;
• the creation of an independent information commissioner with powers to review and enforce decisions made under PAIA;
• increased training and resources for the implementation of PAIA; and
• the creation of adequate records management systems within information holders.

A copy of the full review is available here.