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Ministers ignoring Official Information Act

Ministers ignoring Official Information Act

Government Ministers are routinely ignoring the Official Information Act, with some Ministers answering as few as 40% of requests on time, according to research published by the blog No Right Turn.

"This is an appalling record. Ministers are simply ignoring the timeframes of the Act and refusing to provide information in a timely manner. They are breaking the law,” said No Right Turn blogger Idiot/Savant.

The Official Information Act allows anyone to request information from the Government, and requires requests to be answered "as soon as reasonably practicable", with a maximum deadline of 20 working days.

However, only one Minister, Chris Finlayson, met that standard. Most fell far below it, with four making timely responses in only 50% of cases. The worst-performing Minister was Gerry Brownlee, who answered only 39.7% of requests within the statutory timelines set by the Act. Overall, across all Ministers, only 71% of requests were answered on time.

"The Act has been law since 1982. After 28 years there is no excuse for this failure. It can only be interpreted as wilful and deliberate."

Idiot/Savant said the research was conducted using the OIA itself, by requesting information on how Ministers tracked requests, and then a copy of whatever data they kept.

Information on when requests were received and responses sent, as well as on whether an extension was granted, was used to determine whether a request was late.

One Minister, Paula Bennett, refused to cooperate with the survey, saying that she did not consider release of accurate tracking data to be in the public interest. Her refusal is currently the subject of a complaint to the Ombudsmen.

Government departments were also surveyed, revealing much better performance: three departments (the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Education Review Office, and Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs) had a 100% on-time record, while overall departments answered 88% of requests on time.

"The difference between Ministerial offices and government departments is significant," said Idiot/Savant.

"It shows that the problem is political. Ministers just don't want to answer."

The survey will be repeated next year to see if performance has improved. The full results will be published on the blog No Right Turn

No Right Turn (http://norightturn.blogspot.com/) is one of New Zealand's top political blogs. It covers New Zealand and international politics from a left-wing perspective, with a particular focus on Parliament, elections, climate change and human rights. In addition to the usual commentary, it pokes into policy using the Official Information Act, and encourages citizen participation in government.

Chris Finlayson (100% on-time)
Maurice Williamson (96.1% on time)

Phil Heatley (54.2% on-time)
Kate Wilkinson (52.3% on-time)
Jonathan Coleman (50% on-time)
Tim Groser (50% on-time)
Judith Collins (48.3% on-time)
Gerry Brownlee (39.7% on-time)

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