The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) was established in 2001 with a mission to promote open and transparent democracy, foster a culture of corporate and government accountability, and assist people in South Africa to be able to realize their human rights.
By promoting transparency, enhancing access to information, supporting whistleblowers and liberating data, ODAC aims to create a culture of accountability and openness to meet the needs of people, and contribute to social and economic justice.
ODAC provides practical and niche services to individuals and organisations with a social justice agenda to help citizens access their rights in respect of key pieces of legislation.
ODAC’s main activities focus on the following:
Advice – provides a whistleblowing hotline (0800 525 352) which offers direct legal support to whistleblowers (around 200 every year). It also provides advice on three key laws, namely the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), the Protected Disclosures Act (PDA) and the Protection of Personal Information Act (PPIA), and supports around 20 organisations (and individuals) a year with submitting requests for access to information in terms of PAIA.
Advocacy – advocates for greater transparency in government, e.g., its lobbying expanded the protections available to whistleblowers in the Protected Disclosures Act, and led to the South African Information Regulator having oversight of both access to information and personal privacy.
Research – conducts research on access to information, open data, open contracting, and the Open Government Partnership, and provides thought leadership on most issues relating to transparency and openness.
Services – ODAC is growing its service arm to improve its sustainability. It provides consulting services to the public and non-profit sectors to improve whistleblowing and other transparency practices through policy development, staff and management training, and legal compliance with the PDA, PAIA and POPIA. It also conducts training on these laws for hundreds of people, including online courses designed for training the media, called the “Open Journalism Workshop”.
ODAC’s advocacy resulted in positive amendments to the Protected Disclosures Act, Cybersecurity and Cybercrimes Bill, Protection of Personal Information Act, and Protection of State Information Bill. It has also successfully initiated, or supported, many strategic litigation cases.
ODAC produces regular, high-level research publications on issues such as whistleblowing, multi-stakeholder initiatives, access to information, the Open Government Partnership, and Sustainable Development Goals, and facilitates successful community interventions on access to information in communities such as Blikkiesdorp.
ODAC hosted the first South African National Whistleblowing Week in 2011, and helped co-host the African Open Government Partnership Summit in 2016 in Cape Town.
ODAC is a member of Imali Yethu, the Right to Know Campaign, the Access to Information Network, Parliament Watch, and the Hate Speech Working Group, and collaborates with a myriad of domestic civil society partners such as OpenUp, the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, My Vote Counts and the Association of Independent Publishers. It is also a member of various African and international initiatives, including the African Platform on Access to Information Working Group, the Open Contracting Working Group, the African Freedom of Information Centre, the Whistleblowing International Network, Freedom of Information Advocates Network, KeepItOn Network, the Open Government Partnership and Transparency Action Initiative.
Despite its success, ODAC is also confronted with a number of challenges. Given the controversial content of its work, ODAC is forced to rely on donor funding and struggle to maintain this sustainably. As far as whistleblowers are concerned, the social environment is very volatile and hostile, with both the public and private sectors failing to take steps to protect whistleblowers, and often actively discourage the practice through reprisals and harassment. This situation also makes ODAC’s own work volatile as evidenced by increasing reprisals against organisations that do ‘controversial’ protection work, both online and offline.
Click here to make a donation to ODAC.