Public service causing “paralysis of democracy” with OIA requests

The following article is reproduced here in full, in the public interest.

### NZ Herald Online 5:30 AM Thursday Mar 21, 2013
Ombudsman to investigate OIA response
By David Fisher
The agency charged with reining in the power of government is to investigate the way public bodies are releasing information as citizens complain of being shut out. The Office of the Ombudsman is to begin its own investigation into the way the public service is responding to the Official Information Act as allegations are made of a “paralysis of democracy”.

The office is struggling to cope with a large increase in complaints from the public who have sought help. Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly has begun writing to those who have complained saying it doesn’t have enough staff to handle the work load.

In response to a complaint from The Herald, Mr Donnelly said the office had 450 complaints it had been unable to assign to investigators because of the volume of work. He said staff were dealing with 2800 complaints.

In contrast, the Ombudsman’s office told a parliamentary select committee it finished the 2011 year with 1359 complaints and the 2012 year with 1746 complaints. Mr Donnelly said this will be a factor in an investigation into the way the act was handled across the public service.

He said the inquiry would aim to discover if the delay was caused by the way public agencies responded to requests.
He said the law stated information should be released unless there was good reason to withhold it.

A recent investigation into the Ministry of Education’s handling of requests to do with Christchurch schools raised questions about the processes used by government agencies to deal with requests.

Constitutional lawyer Mai Chen said the problems raised questions about how well public servants understood a law intended to give balance to the “David and Goliath” inequality between citizen and government. “I am concerned that officials sometimes reflect their ministers. I’m concerned some of the reticence may reflect the priorities that ministers give to compliance with legislation.” She said the government expected citizens to comply with laws and it should do so with the act. “If they don’t mean to do it, they should repeal it.”

Both the Green Party and Labour Party have spokeswomen for open government – with Labour’s Clare Curran, saying it would become a ministerial responsibility when the party was next in office. “There is an emerging crisis with our watchdog agencies,” she said. “It is a paralysis of democracy.”
NZH Link

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr

8 Comments

Filed under Business, Economics, Media, Name, Other, People, Politics

8 responses to “Public service causing “paralysis of democracy” with OIA requests

  1. And even when they do reply it can be sneeky, instead of by email I’ve had them ring which doesn’t put it in front of me. See DCC staff…………

  2. Hype O'Thermia

    And unless you’ve cunningly set up your phone to record, unless you’re very quick off the mark when the call comes you won’t have the presence of mind to press record – so then it’s up to them to say, if there is future disagreement, what they said to you. How very convenient.

  3. Hype O'Thermia

    There wouldn’t be so many OIA requests if there weren’t so many people doing their level best to prevent anyone knowing what they’re up to. Remember Greater Dunedin’s “transparency”? Well, we’ve got Council online to look forward to –
    Mayor of Dunedin Dave Cull
    March 3
    Last week Council okayed full recording (audio as well as video) of Council meetings. Just the first step towards eventual full web streaming of Council (and Committee) meetings. That will give the community the opportunity to observe Council and judge opinions and behaviour without the intermediary of media interpretation. http://www.facebook.com/DunedinMayor?ref=ts&fref=ts

    I wonder if it will be in the tradition of “public and media excluded” for large chunks of the meetings. Media interpretation was a minor worry compared to the amount of hush-hush, behind closed doors, “commercially sensitive” business.

    • A whisper (in the public gallery at hotel/apartment building hearing) that the opportunity to record council meetings will be in place before October…. and a useful arrangement possible for broadcast. I have more detail but will let your minds clamber around that.

  4. I wonder what the councillors ‘safe word’ will be to turn camera’s off?

  5. Hype O'Thermia

    Turn cam–
    What!
    I can only suppose you mean a technical problem with our system which the IT people are working on now.

  6. Elizabeth

    This item on OIA requests is reproduced in the public interest, follow link to read comments.

    ### thestandard.org.nz 5:42 pm, October 16th, 2014
    OIA: Rotten
    Posted by Bunji
    As story after story comes out about Official Information Act requests, it shows how much contempt for transparency and the law this government has, and how little it intends to be held to account.

    Judith Collins ushering OIAs out in 2 hours to Slater.

    John Key’s “Office” getting out SIS hits on Goff.

    Paula Bennett delaying an MSD report OIA release, getting told by the Ombudsman to release it… and still holding onto it until after the election.

    John Key now admitting to casually breaking the law they’re meant to go above and beyond (with the “highest ethical standards” required by cabinet), and delaying OIAs 20 days because it’s politically convenient.

    If I was a journalist I’d be livid.

    I am anyway.

    OIAs have been with us 30 years, and the flagrancy of the breaches of the law have never been worse.

    The Ombudsman is deliberately underfunded (funded to process 2/3 their average amount of complaints), and even if they uphold complaints they’re ignored.

    They need teeth.

    And a spotlight needs to keep shining on this until National’s behaviour improves. We need to keep showing the public the contempt they’re being held in.

    National are saying: you only get to hear about the good stuff to judge us on, and once we’ve got your vote, you have no right to hold us to account for 3 years.

    Rotten.

    http://thestandard.org.nz/oia-rotten/

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