InfoReg pounces on political parties over PAIA compliance

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 19 May 2023
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator.
Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the Information Regulator.

The Information Regulator will embark on an assessment of political parties’ compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2, 2000 (PAIA).

The evaluation will be of all political parties represented in Parliament, and will be conducted from 19 May to 7 June.

In a statement, the information watchdog says this is part of the regulator’s programme of action presented through its Annual Performance Plan 2023/2024 to the Justice and Correctional Services Portfolio Committee.

The first assessment will be conducted on the African Christian Democratic Party.

The InfoReg says the Constitutional Court’s judgement in the My Vote Counts NPC versus minister of justice and correctional services and another (2018) ZACC 17 case, brought about the amendment of PAIA on 1 April 2021.

This amendment created an obligation on all political parties and independent candidates to record, preserve and make available information on their private funding.

It also includes political parties in the definition of a “private body”.

The watchdog says this makes South Africa one of the few, if not the only country, which includes political parties in the access to information regime.

“Any person can request access to information held by a political party if they require this information to exercise any of their rights, particularly their right to vote. If access to information is denied, or such information is not disclosed, a complaint may be lodged with the regulator,” it notes.

Advocate Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the organisation, says: “We decided to include political parties in our assessments to strengthen transparency within political parties and considering that the 2024 national and provincial elections are upon us.”

The areas of compliance to be assessed include, but are not limited to, the designation or delegation of deputy information officer/s (DIOs), the registration of the information officer and DIOs with the regulator, the development and availability of PAIA manuals, and creation and keeping of information relating to donations made to political parties as prescribed in section 52A(1)(a) of PAIA and the PAIA Regulation 6(1).

The regulator will also conduct onsite inspections at the political parties’ offices.

It says during this financial year, it will assess other public and private bodies, such as universities, national and provincial government departments, and JSE-listed companies.

In the last quarter of the previous financial year, the regulator conducted PAIA assessments on short-term insurance companies, banks, municipalities and regulatory bodies.

“Compliance with PAIA has, since its inception, been extremely low, and there has always been a reluctance from bodies to give information, which undermines the constitutional right of access to information. The aim of conducting the assessments is to ensure institutions comply with PAIA meaningfully,” the regulator says.