A little over a month ago I filled an Access to Information request with the City of Cape Town asking for copies of health inspection orders for restaurants in my neighbourhood. You can read the original post here
It was partly an experiment for me to gauge how the City deals with ordinary Joes wanting to access official records in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act and it was also because I would like to know whether the places I like to eat at have any health issues that I would need to know about.
As I pointed out in my last post, in my day job as head of the Media24 Investigations we do access to information applications with state bodies as a matter of course and often have great difficulty trying to wrest official records from these entities. In fact, we have two law suits on the go at the moment to try and get official records from the National Lotteries Board and from the Gauteng provincial cabinet.
My Quest for the Truth About My Local Eateries – a citizen’s experiment in SA’s access to information law PART 1
AS an experiment to see how accessible State-held information might be to ordinary citizens I decided to have a go at getting some stuff out of the City of Cape Town where I live. I want to get records relating to food hygiene in my neighbourhood where I live and eat and play.
In the Media24 Investigations team we use access to information law pretty routinely to get documents and records out of the state. It's often a hard-won battle when we prevail and I've always wondered what it's like for Joe Bloggs trying to get information which would be important to their lives out state bodies.
I think its important that as a consumer and as a citizen I should know about restaurants in my neighbourhood which have been given notice for failing basic hygiene standards.
Health inspectors are (supposed) to routinely check establishements where food is prepared to see that they meet certain standards. Elseehere in the world these records are made available to media and others and there are thriving websites which pull the information together so that consumers have some idea of what they're really in for when they decide to "nip out for a bite".
We tried to get records like this out of Cape Town as an investigative reporting team and they more or less told us to bugger off. So I'm having a smaller scale go at it - and because I really think I am entitled to these records, especially of joints around my 'hood.
Over the next couple of weeks I will document my experience of this process and share it with anyone who is interested.Scridb filter
Over the last six months or so since I joined the Media24 Investigations team I've been pushing for us to really get active on access to information applications and last weekend one of our most ambitious projects came to fruition as we published the salaries of most of South Africa's directors-general, the country's top civil servants. (Stories in Afrikaans in Rapport here and also in City Press)
An earlier access to information request involved us fighting for information around the SA's national matric examination mark adjustments.
The information in our most recent project involving the DGs salaries came after many months of work in hassling dozens of government departments to respond to our access to information request - even though the Promotion of Access to Information law clearly sets out how this process is supposed to unfold.
Now, for reporters in Western democracies the idea of having to file access to information applications to get details of civil servants' salaries would probably seem crazy as this kind of information would, you would imagine, be freely available.
But would it? Our own campaign was in itself inspired by the amazing Bureau for Investigative Journalism project in the United Kingdom which produced a series of stories on the back of literally thousands and thousands of access to information applications.