oa African Journal of Public Affairs - The role of access to information in enabling transparency and public participation in governance - a case study of access to policy consultation records in South Africa

Volume 9 Number 6
  • ISSN : 1997-7441



The operationalisation of good governance principles such as transparency and public participation depends largely on the degree of access that citizens have to government information. This article is based on the notion that citizens should be informed about what government is or does (transparency) and provided with sufficient opportunities to influence this (public participation). Both of these depend on the provision of reliable information before, during and after policy consultation. The article explores how transparency may be operationalised through access to information and how this is implemented in South Africa through the Promotion of Access to Information Act. It then focuses on policy consultation as a mechanism for government transparency that can only function adequately if the public has access to information concerning both the policy and the consultation process. This case study documents is an attempt to obtain records concerning public consultation on mental health policy from a number of South African government departments. Findings suggest that access to information is variably applied across national and provincial Departments of Health, and that legislation regarding the transparency of policy consultations appears contradictory. Based on these experiences, we reflect on potential tensions between the accountability and transparency functions of access to information and public participation in policy making (vis-à-vis policy consultation), and how these tensions can obstruct public participation. We recommend that guidelines be established regarding systemic procedures for taking and keeping records on public consultations.

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