How a lack of public access to information hinders economic development in South Africa

As the world continues to evolve, we find ourselves gaining access to many things that might not have seemed possible a few decades ago, like information. Now, information is easily accessible for those who have the resources. While we know knowledge is power and technology makes accessing information even easier, it still does not mean that it is available for everyone. This barrier to information access hinders economic development in South Africa. For consolidated reasons why access to information is important and how it impacts the economy, continue reading below. 

What is access to information?

Access to information means that you have the necessary tools to access resources that make your life easier. These tools give individuals the ability to seek, receive and impart information effectively and efficiently. Section 32(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa Act 108 of 1996 states, "Everyone has the right to the access of records and information held by the state. People also have the right to gain access to information or records held by another person which is needed for the protection of any rights.” Thus, allowing citizens to hold the government accountable, exercise their voice and freedom of speech while also ensuring that people remain informed about what will affect their lives. Lack of access to information is caused by several factors. Those factors include; 

  • Lack of awareness as some individuals seeking information may not know where to access the resources they need, especially in developing countries and even more so for rural communities. 
  • Inaccessibility is a major cause of lack of access to information, especially in underprivileged urban areas and rural communities. People may be unable to access information because they don't have internet or technology to do so, live far away from libraries with the needed information, or lack road infrastructure, making it difficult for people to access those resources. 
  • Poor infrastructure hinders access to information. For people to become knowledgeable, they need communication facilities such as the internet, computers, postal services, electricity and telephones. 

How it impacts SA’s development

Knowledge is power, and without it, the development of a country will be limited. The right to information will ensure there is no abuse of power or any illegal activities and corruption within a country. It ensures that people and government are held accountable and delivers on the promises they made to citizens. Access to information helps empower South Africans to make a more informed decision for their lives. Access to information and ICT helps improve the quality of education, enabling distance learning and online learning platforms that can help further empower South Africans, particularly the youth. This also helps create more job opportunities which, in turn, helps improve the economy. It also helps create and give access to new tools that can be used within the health care system, thus helping patients and doctors, particularly in under-resourced municipalities, and ensuring socio-economic development. 

DBSA’s role in freedom of information

Access to information goes hand in hand with digital transformation, especially now as the world becomes more digital. The opportunities for digital transformation in South Africa present itself in many places where growth is lacking. In this case, access to information and technology is imperative for a better future. This is why the DBSA seeks to obtain funds, which are used to develop digital infrastructure in the country. We will achieve this through various programmes that have been specifically created to cover infrastructure projects within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. These include; South Africa Connect (SA Connect) programme, the Internet 4All programme in Africa, and municipal connections to further our social infrastructure planning. 

Final thoughts

The world is constantly changing and improving, which forces us to change too. Access to information and resources that ensure the digital transformation and transparency will help South Africa catch up with other developed countries. We need to find innovative ways to ensure digital transformation is a priority to boost our economic standing. By achieving this, we will become equipped to participate in the global market, which will improve lives by creating jobs, better health care, education, and lower poverty. DBSA’s work in this sector ensures that infrastructure aimed at accelerating digital transformation in developing countries is developed.

It's widely understood that knowledge holds power but the access thereto is often restricted. This article will explore how this impacts development in South Africa across various sectors.