27 September 2016

Training comes full circle: SAHA concludes training series on Local Government Project

Following on from the first and second round of training, SAHA hosted, this past week, the final workshops in our three part Local Government Capacity Building Project at the South African Local Government Association offices in Durban. These training sessions represented a conclusion to the training series. We therefore invited all participants from previous training with municipalities for a continuation of training on compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) and related legislation, and all community activists that attended the activists' training earlier in the year for feedback on issues raised with us during that training. 

Interlinking training with officials and training with activists

By asking activists at our first training session in June about their information needs and the blockages they experience when trying to access information, we were able to raise these issues with municipal officials over the course of the three part training series presented to them. This meant that officials could consider the issues and provide feedback in our final session with them on what they consider to be the causes of some of these issues and what measures they would implement, or recommend for implementation, in order to overcome them.

One noteworthy example was the activists' contention that, when they have asked for information, their requests have been met with responses such as “you ask too many questions” or “is your party membership still existing?” After hearing about the activists' contentions one municipal official provided detail about a complaint mechanism developed by their municipality which can be used in such circumstances and with respect to any other grievances over responses to attempts to access information.

Training with municipal officials

In our final session with municipal officials, on 21 September 2016, we met up with officials from Umzimkhulu, Umzumbe, Ugu and Umhlathuze municipalities. This session focused on how to process internal appeals, complaints to Chapter 9 bodies, and court applications against decisions or conduct of their municipality in a legally compliant manner. Through our presentation and shared learning examples, we were able to demonstrate to the participants what their duties were. This also lead to an encouraging discussion among participants about avoiding any such escalation by ensuring that timely and compliant decisions were given at the initial stage of the request process.

The training with municipal officials was well received with attendees indicating that the workshop “clarified a few uncertain issues” and that it was a “very informative session”. Some in attendance only joined the training series at this final workshop and stated that they wished they had “attended from the start”.

Training with community activists

On 22 September, in collaboration with the Right2Know Campaign, SAHA again met with community activists from across KZN to provide feedback on access to information issues that they had raised with SAHA in June. Over and above the broader issues on which responses from the municipalities was conveyed to the activists SAHA also provided feedback on some specific information issues that we had followed up on with PAIA requests. Released records, received as a result of those requests, and provided to community activists, included records with information about: the availability of resources at local clinicsGlebelands HosteleThekwini’s emergency plan in the event of a natural or industrial disaster and expenditure on the Commonwealth Games. The provision of these records was greatly appreciated and many activists seemed confident that the records obtained by SAHA would inform discussion and future decisions regarding their activism.

At the request of activists in attendance at the workshop in June we also took the opportunity to provide some training on the submission and management of PAIA requests. Attendees stated that they now know how they can “deal with [their] community problems” and are “empowered and encouraged to submit” PAIA requests.

The way forward

Over the course of three workshops with municipal officials and two with community activists we sought to bridge the divide between what PAIA promises and what happens on the ground, between what citizens need and what local government provides. Whilst there is no quick fix to the problem of providing information as freely as possible, we are heartened to receive feedback calling the training “fruitful”, “useful” and even “perfect”. SAHA is now wrapping up this massive two year project by finalising publications that we have been developing over the two years and we will soon be launching electronic versions of the publications coming out of the Local Government Capacity Building Project.