Sunday, October 18, 2015

Abuse of the Official Information Act - Ombudsman had enough

The Ombudsman has had enough. The abuse of the Official Information Act by those subject to it must stop.

The Chief Ombudsman has slammed the Prime Minister for delay tactics of releasing official information.
Dame Beverley Wakem says she intends to introduce a new set of standards covering Official Information Act (OIA) releases, as part of a major review.
Thomas Jefferson once said "information is the currency of democracy", but it's not always easy to get information...
Information can be accessed from the Government and its agencies under the OIA. They must respond within 20 working days, but several examples have shown that is not always the case.
Several examples? That's the understatement of the year.

The Ombudsman told me that 110 complaints had been received against MSD in the 2013 financial year. 62 were about delays. Those statistics represent only the people who bothered to complain.

And that's just one department.

The TV3 report continues:

3D waited two years for information from Auckland police on burglary statistics.
A complaint to the Ombudsman's office has been with it for a year.
I've had a complaint lodged with the Ombudsman since September 18, 2014 and still no resolution.

Obviously they are unable to cope with the level of complaints being received.

It's not a good look for the National government and I am pleased to see mainstream media giving the issue some coverage.

Prime Minister John Key has previously admitted his office uses delaying tactics in releasing official information. Dame Beverley told The Nation that's unacceptable.
"There's a disregard for the law," she says.
From the top down.


Anonymous said...

"110 complaints against one department".

Sounds like the sort of naive comment you are often criticising Carmel Sepuloni about. If you provided some context like:
- how many requests per year that department got
- who the complaints were from (in particular how many were from Labour or the Greens, you would expect them to complain wouldn't you?)
- how many of the complaints were upheld (if none - then there is no problem at all!)

If that was part of your analysis - then maybe you'd be saying something useful - in the absence of this information you are just as much a dog-whistler as the beneficiary advocates that you skewer so regularly.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Anonymous, Did you read the link?

Anonymous said...

Indeed I did - what's that got to do with my comment. How many complaints upheld? If none.... then what's the problem. We're a nation of complainers - if none of the complaints are found to have substance then it's just whinging. Labour complain about welfare all the time - but you quite rightly point out their complaints are not backed by facts and that they're just whining.

Your post would be much better by getting your facts right. To start off with re having to respond in 20 days - that's not what the OIA requires. A common mis-interpretation but s15 is very clear about 'a decision being made' and not 'information being released'. In a significant proportion of cases departments over-comply with this provision choosing to decide AND respond within the 20 days.

Alternatively, you seem to be unhappy that there is a provision in the OIA that allows extensions?

Seriously, on this matter you are all over the place, what are you unhappy about:
- is is that departments apply the legislation the way it is drafted (if so - odd position to take), or
- is it that you think the legislation is wrong in allowing extensions and departments are evil for following the law of the land (if so - again odd position to take)
- is that you misunderstood the legislation and are angry that departments don't ignore the statute as it is written and give you what you want when you want it (again - odd position to take)

For a blogger who is usually so logical, fact-based and analytical your thinking here is very out of keeping from the standards that keep me a regular visitor to your terrific blog.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Let's take a step back. You asked in your first comment how many requests had the dept received. The answer was in the link.

How many complaints were upheld isn't relevant in the context of my post. I merely used the number of known complaints about delays to just one govt dept to show that TV3 citing "several examples" was an understatement.

The Ombudsman is clearly unhappy about some aspects of the OIA application (indicating a level of complaint validity) or wouldn't be setting "new standards".

I accept delays. However in the 13 years I have been asking questions (mainly of MSD) the delays have become far more frequent to the point of bring normal practice. Granted that may be a facet of MSD handling and not pervasive. The overall complaints about delays is declining according to the latest Ombudsman Annual Report. That may reflect an improvement in timeliness of responses or people simply tiring of complaining to the Ombudsman.

BTW the complaint I have had lodged with the Ombudsman for over 1 year is not about delays. It is about the non-release of a paper which should be in the public domain. 13 months and counting is not a acceptable period to await a resolution. That, I am "unhappy" about.

david said...

The fundamental problem arises from the use of legislation in the first place. It seems we have another case of perverse outcomes. Prior to the OIA, journalists and others could approach government departments and for the vast majority of requests, they got an answer reasonably quickly. If the department didn't want to give the information it didn't. Now under OIA, there is a procedure and departments follow it. Even the simplest request takes time. Does it make information more available? I doubt it. If the department doesn't want to give the information, there are still ways of avoiding doing so. Net result, less information rather than more. A more confident Government would tell its departments to be more cooperative, but instead frightened ministers enforce a 'no surprises' policy that further stifles debate. Created as a sword for the public it has become a shield for the bureaucrats.