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Some public servants play games with OIA requests

Office of the Ombudsmen
Te Tari-o-Ngā Kaitiaki Mana Tangata


Media release

Some public servants playing games with OIA requests

The Office of the Ombudsmen is concerned some parts of the public service have been deliberately delaying responses to Official Information requests.

In the office’s Annual Report to Parliament, Chief Ombudsmen Beverley Wakem says the practice is unacceptable and subverts the purpose of the legislation.

Beverley Wakem says the Office has observed an increasing tendency by a few government departments and Ministerial offices to ignore the provisions of the Official Information Act over the timing of responses to requesters.

“While in some cases this was clearly a misunderstanding of their obligations, there is also a regrettable tendency to game the system and delay responses until the complainants’ interest in the matter had passed,” she says.

The Chief Ombudsmen says because of the concerns, the Office has conducted a series of briefings with public sector Chief Executives and representatives of political parties and published guidance material to help improve understanding and practice in this area.

“We hope to see a considerable improvement in how agencies deal with requests and communicate with requesters and we will monitor this.”

The number of complaints received under the OIA increased by 10 percent over the past year to 897.

Beverley Wakem says more requests under the Act will inevitably lead to more requests for an Ombudsman’s investigation and review in the event of refusal, administrative delay or charge.

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The Office also notes an increasing complexity in investigations because of information not being documented in an orderly manner or even recorded in writing at all.

Beverley Wakem says there is an urgent need for agencies to pay closer attention to their statutory obligation under the Public Records Act to keep good records.

She also says the Ombudsmen find it troubling that 25 years after the OIA came into force, many government agencies have still not recognised – and responded appropriately – to the fact that dealing efficiently and effectively with requests made under the legislation requires an ongoing programme of training for staff.

She notes that there has been a considerable turnover in agency staff and a loss of institutional knowledge of agency obligations in responding to Ombudsmen’s enquiries.

“In the absence of any other agency assuming responsibility for improving this situation, the Office of Ombudsmen has developed a training programme and is providing workshops on request to help agencies meet their responsibilities under the OIA and other information legislation.”

The legislation includes the Ombudsmen’s Act and the Local Government Office Information and Meetings Act.

“These Acts are fundamental to good governance and to encouraging citizen participation in the democratic process. Observing their requirements is core business for agencies and compliance should not be as burdensome as some agencies make it for themselves because of their lack of knowledge of the legislation,” says Beverley Wakem.

ENDS


Note: The Annual Report of the Office of the Ombudsmen is available at www.ombudsmen.parliament.nz. You can request a printed copy by emailing us at office@ombudsmen.parliament.nz.

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