Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

An Act which extends the right to any member of the public and any organization to access information in the possession of public authorities.

Q: What is the Freedom of Information Unit (FOIU)?

This is the Unit with the responsibility to educate, train and advise key stakeholders on their right of access to information through the FOIA as well as their roles and responsibilities in administering the Act.

Q: How does the FOIA extend to the public the right to access information in the possession of a public body?

1.    Mandatory release:
Every public authority is required to publish an Annual Statement under the FOIA . This statement gives an outline of the operations of the organization and the information which it holds.
2.    Proactive release:
Agencies are encouraged to make available as much government information as possible. This can be released through their websites, brochures, publications, press releases, etc.
3.    Informal request:
Nothing prevents the public from informally requesting specific information from public authorities and from agencies responding to such requests. But in circumstances where the information is not already in the public domain the agencies can insist that applicants complete a formal request form.
4.    Formal application:
If you have not been able to get the information you need in any other way, you can formally request specific information through the FOIA.

Q: Who can make a formal application for information?

Any individual can make a formal application for access to information held by an agency. This should be the last resort, after the informal avenues have been tried.

Q: Do all public authorities have to release information?

Any individual can make a formal application for access to information held by an agency. This should be the last resort, after the informal avenues have been tried.

Q: Do all public authorities have to release information?

All public authorities subject to the Act have a responsibility to respond to all applicants requesting information. Although the Act promotes maximum disclosure, in these are circumstances Agencies can refuse your request:

  • When the information you have asked for is already publicly available,
  • When your request supersedes the available resources of the public authority. The public authority however, must show that it took all steps as far as reasonably possible to gather the information
  • When there is an overriding public interest against disclosure.

A refusal is deemed to be:

  1. The decision of a public authority to deny or defer access, in whole or in part, to a document that has been requested under the Act.
  2. The failure of a public authority to give written notice of a decision on an FOIA request, within thirty (30) calendar days of having received the request.
Q: How to make a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request? How much does it Cost?
  1. Determine the information you want to request and the correct PA to whom the request should be sent to.
  2. Fill out the FOI request form which is can be acquired from the Public Authority of from the FOIU website. Seek assistance from designated officers from the Public Authority or from officers from the FOIU.
  3. Submit completed form either via mail or in person to the relevant public authority. Currently, there are no charges to access information from public authorities
Q: How long should it take a Public Authority to process my request?

A public authority has 30 calendar days by which to notify the applicant if the request will be granted, refused or deferred.

Q: What information and documents are exempt under this Act?

A public authority may refuse access to any official documents containing exempt information. Under the FOIA there are 11 exemptions, none of which are absolute. The Act defines such documents as exempt documents. (this will refer back to the earlier page)
A public authority may refuse access to such documents. Before deciding to refuse access, the authority must try to delete any information that makes the document exempt. Removing all exempt information would make the required document suitable for release and access may be approved. The applicant must agree to accept the document in its amended form before the authority makes the deletions.

Q: Can exempt documents be made available?

Authorities can give access to exempt documents if in applying the public interest test , there is reasonable evidence that any one of the following has or is likely to have occurred:
•    abuse of authority or neglect in the performance of official duty; or
•    injustice to an individual; or
•    danger to the health or safety of an individual or of the public; or
•    unauthorized use of public funds.

The authority is also required to give access to exempt document(s) if it has determined that it would be in the public interest to do so, having assessed the benefit or damage that might result.

Q: What is the Public Interest Test (PIT)?

The burden is on the public authority to show that the public interest in withholding the information is greater than the public interest in disclosure. Some factors that may make the public interest in disclosing particular information requested:

•    The information relates to an issue that affects a large number of people;
•    It sheds light on how public funds are being spent;
•    It deals with a matter that is a subject of public controversy;
•    Disclosure would help individuals to make more informed choices on important matters.

Q: What types of refusal can there be?

Types of refusals
1.    An authority may refuse to process an FOIA request for access to official documents if:
•    A request for the same official documents was previously made by the current applicant; that any refusals of that request have been upheld by the High Court; and that there are no reasonable grounds for a repeat request.
•    The work involved in the processing of a request would “substantially and unreasonably” divert the authority from its other work. Before making such a determination, the designated officer must have tried to assist the applicant to complete a request that could be processed.
2.    If, having begun the exercise of processing, it becomes evident that all of the documents being requested are exempt, and it is confirmed that the applicant will not accept edited copies (from which exempt portions have been deleted) of the documents.

3.    Your request has also been refused if:
•    The authority decides to defer access to documents because the information requested is to be presented to Parliament or released to the media.
•    You do not receive a response to your application after thirty (30) calendar days from date it was received (stamped by the mail registry) by the authority for processing.
You are not obliged to provide reasons for requesting information.

Q: How will I be notified of refusal?

If your request is refused, the authority to which you have applied is required to notify you in writing. This letter should include:
•    The reason(s) for refusal. This should show the relationship between the specifics of your request and the legislation that supports the refusal.
•    The name and designation of the person who has given the decision to refuse your application (the decision maker).
•    Notification of your right to complain to the Ombudsman and/or apply to the High Court for judicial review of the refusal, and the time within which this application for review is to be made.

Q: How do I challenge FOIA Refusals?

If you are not satisfied with the response of a public authority or they fail to respond to your request, an applicant may then:
3.    Complain to the Ombudsman; and/or
4.    Apply to the High Court for judicial review of the decision.
You may apply to the Ombudsman within 21 days of receiving notice of a refusal. Within 30 days of receiving your written complaint, the Ombudsman will examine the document(s) - if it exists - and make recommendations to the authority on the granting of access to the document(s).
Applications to the High Court for judicial review of a refusal must be made within 3 months of receiving written notification of the decision. The judicial review process is governed by the Judicial Review Act, No. 60 of 2000.

Q: How do I lodge a complaint against a public authority with regards to my FOIA request?

1.    You can complain to the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman may undertake formal or informal investigations and actions to assist in resolving the complaint. A Public Authority is not obliged to comply with the suggestions made by the Ombudsman.
2.    If the applicant’s first attempt to seek resolve fails or is unsatisfactory, the applicant has the right to apply to the High Court for judicial review.

Q: How can I contact the Freedom of Information Unit?

See contact us

Q: How to appeal?

If you have made a request and not satisfied with the response from the public authority or they have failed to respond to your request you do have the right to appeal. An aggrieved person can, within 21 days of receiving notice of refusal, complain in writing to the Ombudsman.
If you are still not satisfied with the ruling of the Ombudsman, you may apply for judicial review of a public authority under this Act. Section 38A (1)