What Is The Law Regarding Access To Information?

The right of access to information is entrenched in the South African Constitution, and supported by the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), No. 2 of 2000. These far-reaching laws have been put in place to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past, where secrecy was commonplace and citizens were kept in the dark. While PAIA may not be perfect, it does open up access to the records of both public and private bodies – in other words, government and corporate entities. In this article, we’ll explore PAIA in more detail.

The purpose of PAIA
 The goal of PAIA is, as set out in the Act itself:

“To give effect to the Constitutional right of access to any information held by the state and any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.”

This is necessary to ensure transparency, accountability and effective governance in public and private bodies – three characteristics that are the cornerstones of a well-functioning democratic society.

 What it means for companies
In layman’s terms, what this actually means for businesses is that they may be required to submit information manuals to the South African Human Rights Commission – the body in charge of assisting, where reasonably possible, anyone who wishes to exercise their right of access to information under PAIA.

These information manuals are prescribed in Section 51 of the Act, and can be seen as company roadmaps, providing a comprehensive overview to the public. They need to be professionally compiled and edited, regularly updated, and made available both in the office and online.

 Shifting deadlines
The current “deadline” for submission of the manuals is December 31, 2020 – and some analysts think that it might get rolled back even further, as that has been the pattern so far. Some businesses – including many SMEs – are exempt from submitting information manuals. Initially, it was thought that all private bodies – including churches, schools and clubs – would need to submit manuals. However, various exemptions have been published in the Government Gazette.

Under the latest amendments, the turnover threshold has increased for all sectors. This means that while many SMEs will remain exempt, larger companies may be required to submit information manuals. Threshold aside, companies with 50 or more employees may also be required to compile a manual. To avoid issues down the line, it is advisable for all businesses (especially those that are not exempt!) to be prepared and get their information manuals ready.

 Businesses can draw up their information manuals based on company reports, and they are allowed to seek external assistance in doing so. This is, in fact, a prime service provided by the East Rand Chamber of Commerce and Industry to its members – we compile PAIA manuals and register them on a member’s behalf, as well as make updates to the content as needed.

To find out more about this and the other benefits of becoming a Chamber member, get in touch with us today.

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