Business owners who have not been informed about the Promotion of Access to Information Actof 2000 ( hereafter referred to as “the Act”), have reason to be worried. This law requires all public and private bodies to compile a manual containing information about the records and information held by that body by 28 February 2003. Furthermore, the manual must be submitted to the Human Rights Commission by the said date and publicized in the prescribed manner.
If you have a small business and assume that the Act does not apply in your case, you would be well advised to look into the matter again. A private body includes every private person, partnership or juristic person that does business, irrespective of the size or the nature of such business.
The main purpose of the Act is to foster a culture of transparency and accountability in public and private bodies. It gives effect to the constitutional right of citizens to gain access to certain records and information in order to exercise and protect their human rights. The Act provides for certain procedures to be followed to gain such access. These procedures are relatively easy if the forms are available.
For those businesses that receive a request for access to certain records and information, there are certain grounds for refusing access. These include the protection of privacy, confidential information, privileged information, trade secrets and frivolous requests.
The Act and regulations cover a range of other matters, such as request and appeal procedures, remedies, forms, fees, public participation, etc. These matters are not discussed in this article.
There is little doubt that the provisions regarding the compilation, updating and publication of the manual referred to above should contribute significantly towards facilitating access to records and information. Information technology is also used for this purpose, because every business that has a website has to make the manual available on that website.
Unfortunately the publicity regarding the Act has not created sufficient awareness of its provisions. Although failure to submit the manual may constitute a criminal offence, it is not clear what action the authorities will take against those public and private bodies who fail to comply.
Some organisations have been feverishly taking advantage of the opportunity to offer assistance to businesses to assist them with the compilation of their manuals. In some cases the costs are exorbitant.
After one has digested all the information contained in the Act and its regulations, the compilation of a manual is a rather simple exercise. The Human Rights Commission has compiled a template to assist businesses in this regard. If you wish to gain access to this template and further information , visit www.labourwise.co.za Go to “LINKS” and then to “Promotion of Access to Information”.
Author: Jan Truter of Labourwise.
Labourwise is an on-line labour relations service aimed at SMMEs to assist entrepreneurs to implement effective labour relations in small businesses. They can be contacted via www.labourwise.co.za or firstname.lastname@example.org