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Issue Date: October 2002 (es)

Are you prepared to share?

October 2002
Candice Erfmann, manager, global risk management solutions, PricewaterhouseCoopers

The Promotion of Access to Information Act No.2 of 2000 came into effect in March 2001. The objective of the Act is to give teeth to the requestor’s constitutional right of access to information held by a private or public body.

The Promotion of Access to Information Act No.2 of 2000 came into effect in March 2001. The objective of the Act is to give teeth to the requestor’s constitutional right of access to information held by a private or public body.
Candice Erfmann, manager, Global Risk Management Solutions at PricewaterhouseCoopers, explains that in terms of sections 14 and 51 of the Act, public and private bodies (respectively) are required to compile a manual that details the subjects and categories of information held by that public/private body and the procedure that should be adopted in requesting access to the records. The manual originally needed to be completed by 15 August 2002, however an extension until February 2003 has now been granted.
Erfmann cautions that organisations that have not begun developing such a manual are at risk of not meeting the revised deadline.
To compile the manual and support the described process for requesting access to a record, Erfmann says that public and private bodies need not only know exactly what information they hold and where it is located, but will also need to establish policies, procedures and mechanisms, including:
* The appointment of information officers.

* Staff training and awareness campaigns.

* Procedures for receiving and processing requests.

* A training manual for staff, incorporating procedures for requests, etc, and

* A monitoring programme to ensure that the objectives of the Act are being met.
Clearly, Erfmann warns, there is a vast amount of work to be done.
"While the requirements of the Act seem onerous in that fulfilment demands a time consuming allocation of dedicated resources, there are significant inherent business benefits to be achieved in fulfilling the Act's requirements," says Erfmann.
Such benefits include:
* Clear data identification;

* Data ownership and responsibility;

* Record retention strategy; and

* Mitigation of unwarranted disclosure risks.
Erfmann maintains that many organisations do not have a comprehensive view of the information that they hold throughout the business, as the business units tend to operate in silos, with the result that little or no information is shared laterally.
Sharing info?
A recent survey on data management by PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that one-third of the businesses surveyed did not share information across departments.
Erfmann maintains that if businesses adopt a culture of sharing information between departments/business units, and this culture is supported by appropriate technology, a platform that fosters better-informed decision-making will be created. "This will have a positive impact on the future value of the business."
She suggests as a starting point for introducing this culture the identification of the subjects and categories of information held by each department/business unit.
"Generally, organisations find that information is duplicated in more than one area, with wasted usage of valuable storage capacity, not to mention the associated costs.
"Many organisations find that once they have been through this data identification process, they realise that decisions have been made without full consideration of the data from another area of the business; data that was, in fact, key to those decisions." Erfmann advises that in identifying the information currently held, it is important to identify information/data owners. These are individuals who have been assigned the responsibility of ensuring the integrity/quality of the data.
Information officer
The Act requires that an information officer be appointed for the purpose of attending to all information requests. When responding to a request, he/she would need to know who the owner of the data is, and then request the information directly from the owner.
"It goes without saying," Erfmann emphasises, "that if access to information is granted upon request, the organisation would need to ensure that the information is accurate. The requirement of the Act therefore encourages data 'responsibility'."
She identifies, as an additional benefit of completing the process, the identification of data that is either no longer required or which, alternatively, should be archived. "It may be worthwhile developing a record retention policy at this stage or, if one already exists, reviewing it for completeness and applicability." The Act requires that appropriate processes be established within each organisation to facilitate a request for access to information.
Unwarranted disclosure
Erfmann highlights the threat of exposure to inappropriate/unwarranted disclosure of information, if all requests are not filtered through a predefined channel.
"An unwarranted disclosure could result in a breach of privacy and potential litigation. If the process is designed with appropriate and proper controls and all staff members are trained in the process that should be adopted, this potential threat can be mitigated."
She stresses that compliance with the Act is inevitable. "Even so, the compliance journey could assist in extracting the maximum value from data and increasing the value of the business."
PricewaterhouseCoopers believes that in the future effective data management practices will be a key differentiator between progressively successful organisations and those that cease to exist.
"In truth," says Erfmann, "the Promotion of Access to Information Act enhances the implementation of good data management practices.
"Have you identified the route you are going to follow?"
For more information contact, Candice Erfman, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Cape Town, Tel: +27 (0)21 529 2031, candice.erfmann@za.pwcglobal.com


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