30 January 2015

Justice under PAIA still eluding former Transnet employees

A year after submitting requests using the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) for records relating to a housing scheme they participated in, former Transnet employees are still waiting with baited breath for the release of the requested records. This despite the fact that PAIA requires an information officer to make a decision on a request submitted to her, within 30 days of receiving the request.

Transnet at first resisted the request under a onerous and overly narrow interpretation of section 18(1)(f) of PAIA which requires a person making a PAIA request on behalf of another person to “to the reasonable satisfaction of the information officer” submit “proof of the capacity in which the requester is making the request.” SAHA therefore, in terms of this section, needs to submit proof, in instances where it submits PAIA requests on behalf of other people, of the fact that it has been properly authorised by that person to do so; it is for this reason that SAHA requires personal requesters that approach it to make a PAIA request on their behalf to complete an authorisation form.

Using technical interpretations of vague terminology such as “reasonable satisfaction” as a delay tactic seems to be a rising trend, with the Department of Defense also recently making use of this tactic.

While Transnet has now undertaken to provide the requested records, the date for release of these records has become a shifting goal post, with a promise in October 2014 to release “in the near future” becoming a promise to release by 31 January 2015, which in turn has become another vague promise to “imminently” release the records.

This is yet another example of why the establishment of the Information Regulator, created by the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (POPI) needs to be fast tracked. There is a real and urgent need for affordable redress in the form of authoritative interpretation of sections of PAIA that are currently being abused by public and private bodies avoiding compliance with their legislative and constitutional duties by hiding behind technical interpretations.