28 September 2017

Towards a more transparent local government

When ordinary people are not having their most basic needs met it is often to the most local level of government they turn. Given that constitutionally it is the job of local government to ensure sustainable service delivery, this is the right place to turn. But the question arises: will you even get the information you need to be able to push your local municipality for better service delivery? In so far as request statistics in recent years have shown that accessing information at local government level has not been simple (see South African Human Rights Commission reports to Parliament and Access to Information Network Shadow Reports): what is blocking access?

To address these questions SAHA undertook a multiyear project working, in collaboration with the Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) branch of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), with local government officials and, in collaboration with the Right2Know Campaign (R2K), with community activists in Gauteng, the Eastern and Western Cape and KZN.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the activists that helped us understand their information needs and helped us see what the blockages are that they experience when seeking to access information. We would also like to thank the officials that shared frankly and honestly about the obstacles they face in implementing access to information legislation, such as the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA). Including a lack of training, a lack of resources and a lack of support from seniors that often do not understand their own obligations and responsibilities.

Drawing on what we learnt from these engagements SAHA developed some tools that are aimed at assisting community activists that are trying to access information, local government officials that are seeking to comply with access to information legislation and facilitators that train on such use or compliance. These tools have been revised and edited following further input from local government officials, the South African Human Rights Commission and civil society and are now finally publicly accessible from our website.

In particular SAHA gives permission for the following publications to be used and reproduced, with acknowledgement, by all those seeking to better understand, utilise and comply with PAIA:

  • The Translating PAIA guide - a plain language guide to words and terms used in the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) in English, SeSotho, SeTswana, IsiZulu and Afrikaans.
  • The Request Process Flowchart - a diagram illustrating the PAIA request process from the point of view of an official processing requests. The chart highlights important duties within the request process and related, prescribed, timeframes.
  • The Transparency and Local Government guide: a process checklist, which outlines the record creation duties of municipalities within the PAIA request process, and templates for many of these records.
  • The Proactively Ensuring Access handout - a list of certain records that municipalities are legally required to ensure are proactively made publicly accessible.
  • The Municipal Managers' Access to Information Sheet - a short summary for municipal managers of their constitutional and legislated duties relating to the right of access to information, and the legal consequences of non-compliance.
  • The Enabling Participation through Access to Information handout - a short guide to links between constitutionally mandated public participation, record keeping and access to information. The guide highlights certain key participation duties imposed, by law, on municipalities and the related record keeping and transparency obligations.

We hope to see these resources being used by and useful to activists and officials alike.