11 April 2012

OSF index reveals that openness has not progressed in South Africa

Poster: Ignorance not Bliss, No news is bad newsThe Open Society Monitoring Index (OSMI), an initiative of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF), has revealed that perceptions of openness within South African society remain low.

Initially launched in 2010, the OSMI measures openness in South African society based on four broad dimensions: the free flow of information; inclusive, accountable and responsive government institutions; fiscal accountability; and the rule of law.

The result of the second OSMI, released on 11 April, have revealed that, as in the first round, not one of the four dimensions achieved a score above the midpoint (5.5 out of 10). The overall mean scores were 4.6 for the free flow of information; 5.4 for inclusive, accountable and responsive government; 3.8 for fiscal accountability and 4.7 for the rule of law.

Executive Director of OSF, Zohra Dawood, reflected that "overall, these scores indicate that South Africa is not doing particularly well in any of these dimensions, and is doing particularly poorly in the area of fiscal accountability".

Those surveyed were asked to rate the free flow of information based on three sub-categories; free and independent news media; public access to information; and government provision of information. Media freedom was rated significantly higher than the other two categories, receiving a score of 5.5 as compared to 4.3 and 4.2 for public access to information and government provision of information, respectively.

These low scores are consistent with SAHA's experience with access to information in South Africa and, in particular, the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). While PAIA includes minimum requirements for government bodies to proactively disclose information to its citizenry, the compliance rate with those requirements is very low. Furthermore, the complex nature of the process for requesting information under PAIA and the low compliance rate of public bodies with their obligations for responding to such requests makes accessing information incredibly difficult for ordinary members of the public.

Reflecting on the results at the launch of the index, academic and businesswoman, Mamphela Ramphele, commented "South Africans have much to be worried about. The tide towards a closed, unaccountable and corrupt state is too strong for the few who dare to stand up and be counted".

The Open Society Monitoring Index Round 2 Results