APAI Victory: one step closer

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- by Gabriella Razzano
ODAC have been involved in the African Platform on Access to Information Working Group for many years. In fact, our Head of Legal - Gabriella Razzano - currently sits as Chairperson of the Group. The Working Group of APAI is a network of civil society organisations that are working on the promotion of access to information in Africa. It was set up in 2009 to develop a platform for joint activities around ATI.

One of the fundamental goals of the group has been for the adoption by UNESCO of a dedicated Right to Information Day (which we currently informally celebrate on 28 September 2015). After significant lobbying efforts by the Group over the last few years, victory is almost in sight. Yesterday the Executive Board of UNESCO adopted a Resolution containing a recommendation to the General Conference to adopt September 28 as International Access to Information Day. You can download a copy of the Resolution here to learn a bit more.

The Resolution will now go before the 38th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference, which will take place in Paris from November 3 to 18, 2015. The adoption seems inevitable at the stage - but is wholly attributable to the fine advocacy work of the Working Group. Congratulations to all involved!

Our 4 key lessons "so far" on social media

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- Gabriella Razzano

Non-governmental organisations can be surprisingly slow to adapt (well, perhaps not surprising to all). Particularly when it comes to social media and marketing, there seems little energy to adapt and utilise this consistently shifting but powerful world to forward our work. Recognising this gap, in 2013 Indigo Trust and ODAC undertook a project to bring together different ngo's to work on our social media through workshops. These proved enlightening and inspiring for many of us (groups such as Fundza Literacy Trust, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, Code for South Africa and others), but still we needed more! Last month, again with the support of Indigo Trust, we began one-on-one sessions with digital consultants to forward our missions. This service, provided by the wonderful Nicky Cosgreave and Katie Findlay of Edge Digital in Cape Town, has proved hugely empowering and inspiring. After almost a year of workshopping, and a month of one on one content, here are the top four lessons ODAC have been privileged to takeaway "so far":

1)    We are natural communicators

Non-governmental organisations often treat their social media and marketing as an after thought or chore. We forget that communicating our message on awareness is in fact a core function in a human rights activist organisation. We should allocate time and personnel accordingly. Our work is actually easy to translate for messaging, and organisations like ours are rich with content – we just need to think clearly about how to communicate on our work consistently.

2)    There’s no need to recreate the wheel

One of the biggest complaints consistently harangued by ngo-types on social media is the “we just don’t have the time”. As a jump-off from point one, we should make the time. But more importantly, it doesn’t need to take a lot of time: you can be re-packaging content in creative ways, rather than repeatedly creating new content from scratch. Also, by setting aside a few hours every month to set up a social media plan ahead of time in which everybody can also share the load, you won’t have an excuse when the month gets busy.

3)    Spend a little and get a lot

Another common complaint is cost. However, most social media platforms are free. Further, there is immense power in spending even a tiny amount of money on Facebook, in particular, if you want to build your audience. In our first boosted post (and with only ZAR 70), we reached 1600 people, which was massive considering the small size of our audience at the time. As ngo’s, we should be specifically fundraising for social media and marketing within each project proposal. Funders understand the importance of exposure – we should too.

4)    Results are measurable

A week after having our first session, we had doubled our page likes. Our posts now see considerable audience engagement, as well. And our website traffic has improved – since the same period in the previous year, we have seen a 10% increase in overall users and a 20% increase in visits. A further incredible encouragement for us, given that we are legal experts and content specialists, is that we are seeing visitors spend almost 15% more time on our website and 26% more time on individual pages, meaning they are finding new information they like. Our blog posts have also started featuring more heavily as the “most visited” pages.

As an organisation with a strong research department, it is encouraging to be able to measure our progress and then convert our learning into improved practice.



BREAKING NEWS: Constitutional Court Win for Whistleblower

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The Department of Roads and Public Works in the Northern Cape has failed in a desperate attempt to stave off implementation of a court order returning a whistleblower to work, with the Constitutional Court of South Africa dismissing their last ditch effort at appeal.

The whistleblower, Mr. Motingoe,  was employed as the head of Legal Services at the Department of Roads and Public Works in the Northern Cape. In 2013 Mr Motingoe blew the whistle on irregularities in the Department involving the tender process of a civil construction work/project at the Theekloof-pass. Mr Motingoe has a Labour Court order, and an arbitration award, against the Head of the Department, Mr K Nogwili ,and the MEC, Mr David Rooi, with both orders saying the suspension was because of his blowing the whistle, and therefore had to be allowed back to work.

The Department has used a private law firm to appeal the Labour Appeal Court order, and failed. They then applied to the Supreme Court of Appeal and failed, and applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal. This has also failed.

Contempt proceedings against the Head of Department and MEC in the Northern Cape were heard in the Labour Court in Cape Town in August this year, and a judgement is awaited.

Lorraine Martin, head of the whistleblower support unit at ODAC, comments that “the cost for the whistleblower in this case have not just been the legal costs, in which he has been partly supported by ODAC, but the personal costs. He has been suspended for almost 2 years, been attacked in the media, and suffered reputational damage. We have no doubt these legal stratagems are fruitless and wasteful expenditure, and a waste of tax payer money. It is unsurprising that whistleblowers see the law as ineffective, and we urge the Department of Justice to introduce long awaited amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act."

Contact Lorraine Martin 083 530 8181 for more detail.


The State of Information in Africa #IRTKDAY2105

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To commemorate International Right to Information Day 2015 (#IRTKDAY2015), the Africa Freedom of Information Centre - alongside partner contributors like ODAC - has launched a report looking at the connection between access to information and the fight against corruption in Africa.

As Adv. Pansy Tlakula notes in her foreward:

“It is an established fact that lack of transparency facilitates and acerbates corruption in all aspects of public life whether it is public contracting, legislating on high interest issues or delivering basic services to ordinary people. Indeed, in some African countries, the quality and quantity of public services have not improved despite increase of public expenditure to deliver those services. This has undermined the realisation of human rights, in particular, economic and social rights of millions of people in some parts of the continent”.

The gist

Most importantly perhaps, the report contains recommendations for how the battle against corruption, and the promotion of access to information, might be improved in each country. For instance in Zimbabwe, while acknowledging that it "is indisputable is that information is central in empowering citizens to demand accountability", it is recommended that the legislative mechanisms in place are made consistent and more readily engaged with by citizens. And unsurprising to many information activists, in Malawi the recommendation for a dedicated Access to Information Law to be passed stands as a strong call!

Important repeated themes in the report include the call for better records management across the continent, as well as a considered exploration of the potential of the Open Government Partnership to forward ATI on the continent.

The report covers South Africa, but also Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

South Africa

The full coverage of South Africa, written by ODAC's Head of Legal Research Gabriella Razzano, is contained from pages 81-86. However, the most important recommendations are that:

  1. In furtherance of Article 9 of the AU Convention, the Information Commission should be established independently and adequately funded post–haste to give full expression to the South African Promotion of Access to Information Act.
  2. In furtherance of Article 5(3) the independence of corruption fighting must be strengthened, and the current consistent pattern of political interference halted with immediate effect.
  3. In furtherance of Article 9, 5(3) and others, South Africa should fully implement the transparency commitments it has made in terms of both National Action Plans it has tabled before the Open Government Partnership.
  4. In furtherance of Article 7(4) of the AU Declaration, the Chief Procurement Office should fully implement their e–Tender portal and capacitate SME’s for its full utilisation to be ensured.

Download the full report here.

A Worrying Tale: Information access in South Africa

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By Gabriella Razzano

On 28 September 2015, the world will be celebrating Right to Information Day. As transparency evangelists, ODAC will be trumpeting the horn of excitement for the day. However, as we count down, we though it would be a good time to reflect on the 3 key takeaways as details from our recent report on how the everyday person might experience trying to access information in South Africa:

1. People may know about PAIA, but they don't use it

81% of those questioned in the research knew about the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), but only 24% have made requests. This is in some sense a result of our audience, but also speaks to how intimidating processes involving "legalease", and direct engagement with government, can be.

2. Peoples perceptions of accessing information aren't positive

Popular negative perceptions about trying to get information from government included: a belief they would not get a response, and potential delays. An interesting complaint from one particular subsection of the group was that they weren't sure what to ask! In some sense, this is a failure of information activists. The message of how information can be used to solve your problem should be one we preach loudly and clearly. 

3. The glimmer of hope: once you use it, you're hooked!

Interestingly, those who do eventually use PAIA to access information use it frequently, in that 39% of users have made three or more requests. This is positive - but not a surprise when you consider the amazing ability access to information has to empower people. Its about enhancing dignity - if people know what to ask, and how to ask it, they become actors in their governing! We should be remembering this as we seek to spread the word on the power of information and transparency.

Download the report here

Download a simple infographic on how to use PAIA here