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OIA ignored as hundreds of requests languish

The New Zealand Maori Council will tomorrow file an Official Information Request with the Government to find out – how many Official Information Requests remain outstanding across the public service and why. Council Executive Director, Matthew Tukaki, has said from media to representative groups, from political parties to everyday New Zealanders, there could be as many as hundreds needing a response:

“We live in a functioning democracy and in that democracy, we expect that if a Government or anyone else says “hold us to account” and we request information and data that we all deem to be in the public interest it should be published without delay. Tukaki said

“The New Zealand Maori Council has been forced to file a range of such requests so we can just build a simple picture of what should be obvious and publicly available information. Take for example the number of Maori who are Directors of State-Owned Corporations – why should we have to dance with the State Services Commission to get that basic information using an OIA? Or why do we need to file an OIA to ask what conversation a Minister had in relation to the scheduling of medications with PHARMAC? These are not matters needing to be hid from the public.” Tukaki said

“The reality is there are probably hundreds of such requests outstanding across a number of portfolios and often what will happen is Ministerial staffers will flick it between portfolios depending on who is responsible for what – and then the public servants will shuffle it around town until finally the questioner gives up. Now – is that a first world democracy or a waste of taxpayers money?” Tukaki said.

“This is not new – in the last Government the way OIA’s were treated by some Ministers from one organisation would totally different to how they would have been treated had it been another. In one case highlighted by stuff.co.nz Judith Collins responded in less than an hour to one made by WhaleOil but others would languish.” Tukaki said

“The reality is it is hard to try and get to the bottom of a situation or understand what needs to be done on a particular matter of what could be public importance if your Crown Partner doesn’t want to play ball. And lets not forget the immense time wasting that goes on that also costs a lot of small organisations time, material and financial resources. I can tell you that a lot of Maori organisations get frustrated when we lodge requests and they fall into the basket labeled the Never Never.” Tukaki said

This is why our call for an independent watchdog or standing Royal Commission is so important or, at the least, a review of what is happening in terms of further resourcing for the Chief Ombudsman – or it could simply be a case of the Prime Minister whipping her Ministers into shape and the State Services Commissioner coming down harder on the process itself – and another easy solution – train your staff so they know what they are doing.” Tukaki said

• New Zealand Maori Council has filed a number of OIA requests in the last nine months ranging from PHARMAC to the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry.
• The former chief ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem found most government agencies (79 per cent) did not require their senior managers (who were often the decision makers) to undertake any OIA training. Of the 723 complaints to the Ombudsman from July to December 2018, 70 per cent came not from reporters or politicians, but from private individuals.

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