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OIA request leads to CDHB apology

Monday 10 October 2016

OIA request leads to CDHB apology

An apology from CDHB corporate solicitor Greg Brogden for the failure of DHB staff to provide information requested under the OIA by Democrats for Social Credit Party (DSC) health spokesman David Tranter, highlights how bureaucracies evade answering questions when the enquirer is entitled to have the requested information.

The enquiry, relating to the building of the new Greymouth Hospital, was initiated with the Minister of Health on 6 April this year. It was referred to the David Meates as CEO of the Canterbury and West Coast DHBs.

Over the next several months the question, which asked who were the staff with expertise in hospital construction site safety, was not only changed by the DHB to one of general health and safety matters i.e. not the specialised area of construction site safety, but was repeatedly delayed while such responses as were given provided all manner of irrelevant information which was not requested.

Mr. Tranter said that after repeated exchanges with the DHB the final answer given was that his request was refused as follows: "The information is declined according to section 9(2)(a) of the OIA…..i.e. to protect the privacy of natural persons, including that of deceased natural persons; on the grounds that there is no public interest in the skills and experience of staff members that outweighs the privacy inferred to employees”.

Undaunted, Mr Tranter again wrote to David Meates having addressed all previous enquiries to him specifically, and received the following apology from Mr. Brogden, dated 6 October 2016:

"I am responding on behalf of David Meates. I have not seen your previous Official Information Act (OIA) requests, and the West Coast District Health Board (WCDHB) responses until now.

I have advised Mr Meates that the information you seek, being the names and positions of staff providing construction expertise during the Hospital Construction, should be provided to you, given that information is set out on the internal Canterbury DHB staff intranet. I apologise that this was not previously provided.

I attach a copy of the staff profiles of the Canterbury DHB Site Redevelopment team, who advise both WCDHB and CDHB Boards in relation to construction projects, including Health and Safety matters, for both DHBs. They do this in conjunction with the Health and Safety team for both DHBs, but the primary expertise with the site redevelopment team".

Quite apart from the particular issue which led to these exchanges, the far wider significance of the DHB's evasive, incorrect responses is that the OIA supposedly exists to enable the public access to information requested.

Significantly, Auckland University senior lecturer Gavin Ellis wrote in the September edition of the Grey Power Quarterly Magazine: "The right to know in New Zealand has become deeply politicised, with the release of official information assessed on the basis of political risk", and that there are, "56 grounds for ignoring the principle that official information should be available".

Whether the DHB officers involved refused Mr Tranter’s request because of "political risk" or whether they were simply not competent to deal with OIA questions may be arguable, but either way it is completely unacceptable that such refusal was made and the DSC will be asking the CDHB as to what steps they will be taking to ensure OIA requests are dealt with by people who are competent to undertake the task.


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