A publisher of a local newspaper in Louis Trichardt, Limpopo, has successfully used the magistrate’s court to apply the Promotion of Access to Information Act, PAIA, of 2000 to force the Makhado Municipality to divulge information on the sale of sites for development.

Last year, the Justice Ministry gave lower courts jurisdiction to hear PAIA applications. It was previously done in the High Court, which was expensive.

The editor of The Mirror, Anton van Zyl, says he approached the magistrate’s court after the municipality refused to give him details of the people or companies which were sold sites through the tender system.

There were allegations that the municipality has sold the sites to the lowest bidders instead of the highest bidders. Van Zyl says the court has now given the Makhado Municipality 15 working days to give him information.

“Prior to the end of last year, there was no recourse if you wanted to do something else you have to go to the high court. The PAIA legislation is wonderful but people ignore it and get away with it, and that is why the study has shown that over  66% of PAIA application get completely ignored by the municipalities and government departments. The legislation and the change made it possible for us to bring such an application to the magistrate court so since the end of last year you can bring the application to the magistrate so we say okay let do that”.

Van Zyl says PAIA is meant to help people to access unclassified information from the state. He says the act also promotes transparency.

“It’s the first PAIA case that went to the magistrate court it used to go to the High court,  so because of the changes in legislation it becomes possible for people to take to the magistrate court which brings down costs, it’s a groundbreaking this is not our problem and not only one municipality it’s a countrywide problem…Speaking to all sorts of news gatherings, reporters, journalists you will find that they share one same frustration. You ask someone for information that you are entitled to its a constitutional right that we have, it’s entranced in our constitution and why is this entrenched in our constitution because we come from a history where information was manipulated”.

Meanwhile, Makhado Municipality Spokesperson Louis Bobodi says they are going to appeal the magistrate’s ruling as the Act also gives them the right not to disclose confidential information of clients to the public.

“We did refuse to divulge confidential and commercial information of third parties for public consumption because we could be sue-able for that. We feel we have a very strong case as per the advice for our legal representatives so we are going to appeal against this decision.”

Recently, the government published the names and details for companies that got tenders for PPE tenders for the public to peruse.