22 February 2012

Higher Education and Training department fails to comply with PAIA requirements

SAHA's recent experience in requesting information from the Department of Higher Education and Training demonstrates the difficulties requesters face in obtaining information from information holders that do not have systems in place for responding to requests and the need to regularly communicate in order to exercise your right to information.

On 28 July 2011 SAHA submitted a PAIA request for a copy of the department's equality plan. The submission was sent to the dedicated information officer (IO) Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde. According to PAIA, Qonde or the Deputy Information Officer (DIO) Mr Thomas Maponya, were required to respond to the request within 30 days of receiving the request.

On 18 August 2011 the department sought copies of the regulations referred to in the PAIA request. A response was promptly sent by SAHA.

On 6 October SAHA wrote to Mr Maponya informing him that the 30 day response period had lapsed and that, in accordance with PAIA, the department was deemed to have refused the request. SAHA offered the department additional time to rectify and respond to the request, failing which, SAHA would submit an internal appeal to the minister, Dr. Blade Nzimande. On the very same day, Mr Maponya responded by email indicating that the department was finalising the compilation of the information requested.

Following a long silence from the DIO, on 3 November, SAHA wrote a courtesy letter to the DIO, reminding him of the Department's obligation to respond in terms of PAIA.

After lengthy communication between SAHA and the DIO an internal appeal was lodged with the minister on 20 December 2011.

In response through a letter dated 31 January 2012 the minister confirmed that the department does not have an equality plan, and that they were in the process of producing one. Other materials not related to the request were also sent through.
The failure by the DIO to comply with the requirements of PAIA and to keep in regular contact with SAHA ultimately led to the involvement of the minister in a matter that, had the department had appropriate systems in place for dealing with PAIA requests, should have been routine.

However, the debacle with the department is not unique. SAHA often needs to continually chase information holders to get the people responsible to respond and account to PAIA. In this instance it took over 6 months, countless emails, and telephone calls for the department to finally comply.


For further accounts of the difficulties surrounding the implementation of PAIA as experienced by FOIP, please see the SAHA publication Paper Wars: access to information in South Africa, edited by Kate Allan.

For more information contact the Freedom of Information Programme.