Political parties in South Africa fail information access test

Information Regulator chair Pansy Tlakula

None of the political parties represented in parliament is compliant with the Promotion of Access to Information Act, the Information Regulator has found.

Introduced in 2000, the act – known as Paia – governs the public’s right to access information held by public or private bodies. It is intended to promote freedom of access to information in South Africa.

“We found that about 54% of political parties represented in parliament are generally non-compliant with Paia,” said Pansy Tlakula, chair of the Information Regulator, at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“Forty-six percent of political parties represented in parliament have some level of compliance but need to improve in certain areas. Therefore, none of the political parties represented in parliament is compliant with Paia.”

Political parties have not always been subject to the stipulations of Paia. In 2017, My Vote Counts, an non-governmental organisation that campaigns for greater political party transparency, approached the Western Cape high court, arguing that Paia is unconstitutional because it did not provide for political parties and independent candidates to disclose their private funding.

The case eventually went to the constitutional court, which ruled that Paia must be amended to include political parties under the definition of private bodies in the act. That happened in 2019.


“Political parties have the obligation to disclose private funding from R100 000 and up to the [Electoral Commission of South Africa],” Tlakula told TechCentral in a post-briefing interview. “People are not aware that they can put in a Paia request for any amount below R100 000 under Paia. They can do this for any information regarding a political party, like if they want to know what criteria were used to determine a party’s candidate list.”

But the Information Regulator’s Paia compliance assessments were not limited to political parties: 27 private companies, 13 universities and a total of 54 national and provincial government departments (27 each) were all assessed for compliance with the legislation – all with varying results.

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All national government departments – with the exception of the State Security Agency, which is exempt – were found to have compiled Paia manuals (a requirement of the act). But none of these manuals was compliant with the legislation.

Provincial departments fared somewhat better, with all but the Northern Cape department of agriculture having compiled a Paia manual, even though only six of these manuals met the legislative requirements. In contrast, all 27 of the JSE-listed companies assessed were found to be Paia compliant – a pattern Tlakula noted is the same regarding compliance to Paia and the Protection of Personal Information Act (Popia), which the regulator also enforces.

“From where we are sitting, the private sector seems to be more eager to comply than the public sector,” said Tlakula.

She said she understands that amendments to Paia legislation are fairly recent, meaning that political parties and other bodies have not had time to adjust to the changes, but she said her office is available to help train entities on compliance.

The impact of Paia is being felt beyond companies, government agencies and political parties. In the music industry, a Paia matter between Clive Hardwick and Risa Audio Visual Licensing led to the release of information related to royalties owed to Hardwick.

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This move, said Tlakula, is helping other artists get fair payment for their work as they are now also asking record labels to disclose information related to their royalties. “Artists die poor while royalties sit with some people who are not releasing them for some reason or other; Paia is making that information accessible to them.”

But Tlakula warns that Paia’s “life-changing effects” do not come easily as respondents in Paia cases often resist releasing information requested.  — (c) 2024 NewsCentral Media

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