The Constitution states that you have a right to information.
    32(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.

Local government is legally required to provide the public with information such as by-laws, resolutions, minutes of meetings, IDP and performance management reports, among other records. The municipal manager is responsible for maintaining such records (s. 32 of the Constitution; s. 117 of the Municipal Systems Act).

To obtain information directly, you need to make a written request to the municipal manager, or the official given the job of releasing or making the information available. The municipality has an obligation to assist persons who cannot read or write. Once you have requested information make sure you get a reply! While information related to by-laws or reports should be available immediately, some documents like committee minutes or resolutions may take time to get together. If you are not satisfied with the response to your information request, complain to municipal council by contacting the speaker’s office.

How to use PAIA: Steps to follow in information requests

What if you are refused information? You can then use the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). First, write to ask for documents. But if you don’t get them make a request for information under PAIA. Municipal officials are required to assist people by giving them the proper forms to apply for information using PAIA and any help you need to complete your application.

To find out how to make a request, ask your local government officials to provide you with their access to information manual or check on your municipality’s website. After you have made an official request, the municipal manager or the municipal information officer must respond within 30 days. They can request a 30 day extension if there are a large number of documents or they are located off-site. But they must tell you this.

If you disagree with the decision to deny your request for information or want to challenge the failure to respond, you can apply to a court for what is called a “judicial review”. You will need the assistance of a lawyer for this application. (See Section 6 on using the courts)

Unfortunately, the administrative process under PAIA lacks teeth because there are no penalties for a failure to respond to your request and no external body to monitor local government’s response.
Community members often lack the time or resources to follow this process and then give up. Don’t! If you are having problems contact the SA Human Rights Commission, Public Protector or human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) or the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC).