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Media Centre  |  COSATU Speeches

Address by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, at Public Sector Confeence - Corporate in a New Era

Address by COSATU General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, at Public Sector Confeence - Corporate in a New Era

24 August, 2001

Public Sector Conference - Corporate Governance in a New Era : The Obligations and opportunities of the Access to Information Act & administrative Act

" How will COSATU use the Access to Information & Administrative Justice Acts" Thank you chairperson; Ladies & Gentlemen;

Once again thank you for the opportunity to make an input in this conference on the 'implications of the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the Administrative Justice Act.' Today I would like to concentrate on how COSATU would use the two pieces of legislation to the benefit of its members.

The Promotion of Access to Information Act open an unprecedented vista for South Africans from all backgrounds to seek information from the state and private bodies. As we all know access to information from the public sector is unqualified by the need to protect and exercise a right. For this reason access state information can be for many reasons.

As trade unions we play an important role in the development of policy and legislation. In order to make a meaningful contribution to the process unions like all civil society formations require accurate an timeous information. This could include informati on about the research that the state used to arrive at particular policy positions in order to understand the rationale that informs the policy. For example the formulation of the national budget and local government budgets relies on projections and inves tigations which ultimately informs the final outcome. In order to interrogate choices the background information is as important as the final outcome.

In addition, information from the state is imperative to understand whether decisions taken by the arms of government were just, lawful and reasonable. This information is important in curbing corruption and in improving transparency of government agencies . It also improves political oversight over the Executive by a whole range of players including civil society formations.

In its own right the right to information within the public sector sphere can also be used to protect and exercise rights. Governments possess information that it collects from other bodies which may have a positive or negative effect on promotion of and e xercise of rights. For example environmental information and health safety information in government's possession is essential in promoting and exercising the right to a clean and safe environment.

In the private sphere there are a number of possible uses that needs further exploration. Trade Unions need accurate information from companies during collective bargaining and to exercise members rights. At the moment the LRA set stringent conditions for accessing information by trade unions during collective bargaining. The Promotion of Access to Information Act will assist workers and trade unions to supplement the rights to information disclosure in the LRA to seek information that will not be permitted under the LRA.

For example, South African companies are very secretive about what they pay the senior layers of managements although the situation is slightly improved. In exercising and protecting our right to equality in term of benefits and payments information about companies pay becomes very crucial and the Act provides a vehicle to access such information.

The Promotion of Access to Information is also vital to promote and protect consumer rights. The Act can be used to demand information about product quality and the inputs that are used including chemicals during the production process. From that standpoin t consumers - which also include workers - can use the Act as a vehicle to seek such vital information.

COSATU members and their families receive and depend on a number of public services and grants such as UIF, social security grants. The Promotion of Administrative Justice Act is pivotal to defend our rights in instances where our members are denied such b enefits. This Act allows us to test whether public entities acted lawfully, reasonably and in a justifiable manner in denying benefits such as state old age benefits.

The Act however goes further than giving the public the right to fair treatment from the state but also oblige public bodies to inform people when they change policies including changing criteria for accessing state grants. Further, the Act open the space for public participation in decision-making within the public sector.

I have only hinted on a number of possible routes that can be pursued by the trade union movement to use the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Acts. However, this still need much furthers thoughts and it is incumbent upon the trade union movement to carefully study the two Acts to use them in their spheres of operation. In this regard COSATU will invest in creating awareness within its ranks on the two pieces of legislation.

Finally, it is clear that the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the Administrative Justice Act are mutually reinforcing and could be creatively used to improve transparency, public participation and improve political oversight of both the private and public sectors. The Promotion of Access to Information however, has a wider scope and should be seen as a leverage right that can be used in a number of situations.

Once again I thank you