06 April 2016

No Deputy Information Officer appointed to handle PAIA requests at Coronation

The South African History Archive (SAHA) has made over 1800 requests since the enactment of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2000 (PAIA) 15 years ago. The large majority of these requests are submitted to public bodies and a smaller portion to private companies. Under PAIA, requests to private bodies have more stringent requirements and necessitates a further step of all requesters in that they must submit reasons for the request by citing a justiciable right the records will help exercise or protect.

Sometimes, this may be an impediment that potentially gets in the way of submitting a request. However, SAHA recently submitted a request to Coronation Fund Managers (“Coronation”) and experienced a different type of roadblock. In accordance with section 50 of PAIA, the Freedom of Information Programme (FOIP) team properly filled out the request form directed to Coronation, listing the reasons explaining why the records requested were required for the exercise and protection of a shareholder’s right.

The next step was to find the contact information for the deputy information officer or head of Coronation. Section 51 of PAIA clearly mandates that the head of a private body must compile a manual containing pertinent information that allows for any individual to be able to submit a request. Coronation does have a PAIA manual accessible on their website - the problem lies in the information that is listed in the manual itself. The Coronation manual directs requesters to submit their request to “M Barratt, The Compliance Officer”. However, when SAHA telephoned Coronation for more information, we were asked to submit the request to another individual not listed in their manual. We were further told that Coronation did not have an appointed deputy information officer though they were working to clarify this.

The inconsistent information offered by the PAIA manual and contact at Coronation may cause confusion for a requester. Section 1 of PAIA defines the head of, or in relation to a private body of a juristic person as the chief executive officer or any person duly authorised by such acting person. As such, SAHA asked Coronation to provide the contact details of the CEO to which they denied. We explained that if there was no deputy information officer appointed, then the request, in accordance with PAIA, should be made to the CEO of Coronation. In order for SAHA to comply with their statutory obligations, we would need that contact information. Instead, the individual advised that the CEO had appointed her as the contact to receive all PAIA requests despite her not having been appointed as an official deputy information officer.

Although SAHA obtained the correct information with relative ease, the potential issue becomes one of contradictory information being fed to the requester. Bodies with varying information may create potential hurdles to the access to information. In light of this, it is SAHA’s hope that private companies adhere to the provisions set out in PAIA and update their PAIA manuals accordingly with the correct details in order to avoid any complications before the request is even submitted.