The government's reluctance or refusal to release information to the public as required by law was proof that it only paid lip service to transparency.
This is the crux of a report by the Democratic Alliance (DA) into the government's compliance with the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).
Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Open Democracy Advice Centre has again echoed concerns about the efficacy of the law.
The PAIA Act gives citizens the right of access to information, held by a public or private body, that is required for the exercise of protection of any right. Sheila Camerer, the DA justice spokesperson, said her party had conducted the survey based on parliamentary questions posed to all the government departments in August last year.
Only 19 of the government's 28 departments bothered to reply and 39 percent of these replies were refusals. "We also received non-compliant replies, deficient replies and replies that were hundreds of pages long. Government departments tend to use the Act as a means of denying requests rather than granting access to information," said Camerer.
The DA warned that unless steps were taken to properly implement the Act, it was in danger of becoming a piece of "decorative" legislation.
This view was also supported by the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), a non-profit organisation, which said on Thursday that the failure of departments to roll out implementation of PAIA had been a concern for some time.
"The high number of refusals suggests that government is still secretive and suspicious when it comes to sharing information with the public," Camerer said.
Three departments - namely transport, education and sports and recreation - referred requests meant for other departments back to the DA, instead of transferring them to the relevant departments as is required by the Act, said the report. Only two departments, water affairs & forestry and environmental affairs & tourism, were commended for their replies to the questions. The report also found the SAHRC lacked the capacity to deal with departments who did not comply with the Act.
Government departments are supposed to send annual reports to the SAHRC and so far, said Camerer, the majority had only sent one or two reports since 2003, when the Act came into effect, while others had not sent reports at all.