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Ministers given licence to delay, cover up

Maryan STREET

Spokesperson for State Services

26 February 2014           MEDIA STATEMENT
Ministers given licence to delay, cover up

Cabinet Ministers are being given licence to cover up embarrassing news during an election campaign, under guidelines just released by the State Services Commissioner, says Maryan Street, Labour’s State Services spokesperson.

“Iain Rennie’s Guidance for the 2014 Election Period: State Servants, Political Parties, and Elections goes much further than rules applying under previous governments about how state servants should respond to Official Information Act requests just prior to an election.

“Section 2.4 of the 2014 Guidelines, dealing with the Official Information Act, advises government agencies on how to respond to OIA requests if the information sought ‘is particularly sensitive or potentially controversial’.

“The new guide gives the Minister more power to meddle in the handling of any OIA request than they had under the previous Labour government. It also advises state servants to consider extending the timeframe for responding to an OIA request.

“The provision to extend the timeframe was first suggested by Mr Rennie in the 2011 guidelines but has been given more blanket application in this version. It did not exist at all in the 2008 guidelines. The 20 day limit for responding to OIA requests should not be a target; it should be a maximum allowed.

“This is a licence for fudging, delay and cover up.

“The election period is a crucial time for the swift release of information in order to keep voters and the media well informed.

“These guidelines, which come with a video about politics and the workplace, say that if any sensitive or controversial material is to be released, the Minister must be consulted and may take over the OIA request.

“Given this government’s record in bullying state servants, even very senior ones, I have no confidence that they will allow state servants to carry out their responsibilities to the public impartially and in a neutral fashion under these guidelines,” said Maryan Street.

ENDS

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