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I got this question as one of the search terms someone used in google to get to my blog. Up to now I have been writing about my exploits in sending a PAIA request to Exxaro Resources, a South African Mining Company.

Maybe this is a sign. It seems that there are companies out there in South Africa that do not know what a PAIA request is.

I will answer the question, short and sweet: ALWAYS

The Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) was written to honour our holy constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights. Specifically Section 32:

32. Access to information

1. Everyone has the right of access to ­

  a. any information held by the state; and

  b. any information that is held by another person and that is required for the exercise or protection of any rights.

2. National legislation must be enacted to give effect to this right, and may provide for reasonable measures to alleviate the administrative and financial burden on the state.

That means that ANY PERSON that SUSPECTS that SOMEONE in South Africa’s constitutional rights may be in jeopardy has the RIGHT to ANY INFORMATION REQUIRED to validate the suspicion.

The PAIA is the procedure that describes how to access this information.

Now if you receive a PAIA Application you must:

  • – Disclose the information, or a valid refusal to the requested within 30 days.
  • – If you are really busy you may request a 30 day extension.
  • Supply ALL the requested information (except if you have a valid reason to refuse it).
  • If you don’t have the information in your possession, you must explain this in your response.

If you ignore the PAIA application you may:

  • find yourself defending a criminal case against you, in a worst case scenario.

There are a few valid reasons to refuse information:

  • You are not the legal owner of the information. The bill of rights protect people’s privacy. It would be nice to respond to the requester, indicating who the owner of the information is, and build a good relationship / reputation in the process.
  • If it will jeopardise your commercial interests. Careful here, you may land up having to justify this refusal in a court case. Be clear in your motivation why you refuse in this case, or you may raise suspicions (that are sometimes worse than sharing the information in the first place).

There are a couple of other technicalities to this act, most of which applies to Organs of State (the government). For instance, even if you ask, they will not tell you how many nuclear bombs are hidden under South Africa’s soil. To get such info you will have to bribe the right person in National Intelligence (for which you need a really big wallet, and should not be afraid of getting assassinated for daring to ask the question)

Now my suggestion is that you download the PAIA Act. Read it. Understand it. If your genetic programming prevents you from grasping the concepts, I have the following suggestions:

  • Reconsider whether you really want to be a leader in an organization. Maybe a simpler job would be better aligned with your true calling, or
  • Get a lawyer to handle this stuff for you.

South Africa’s constitution is holy. Don’t screw with it. If you are a senior member of an organization and you receive a PAIA application you need to treat it as a very serious issue.

Be nice, be transparent. If you screwed up, admit it and tell about your plan to fix it.

For interest, here are some more resources on the subject:

https://franzfuls.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/exxaro-paia-application-response-received/

http://openjournalismworkshop.org/

http://www.opendemocracy.org.za/

Sweet dreams!

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2 thoughts on “When should you respond to a PAIA request?

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