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NRT: Overstretched

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, July 2nd, 2014 - 9 comments
Categories: accountability, democracy under attack, Politics - Tags: , , ,

no-right-turn-256Reposted from No Right Turn.

The Office of the Ombudsman issued its Statement of Intent yesterday, setting out what they plan to do over the next five years. we’ve been hearing a lot recently about how the office is failing to deal with the deluge of complaints it must now handle, and the Statement of Intent confirms it. Here’s their projected performance targets for handling OIA complaints:

ombudsman-oia-targets

Spot the difference: their budget target – on which their budget is based – underestimates demand by 75% or more. It’s a similar story for Ombudsman’s act complaints: they have a target of 8,000 contacts/complaints a year, and they’re actually dealing with 11,000. Which is why people are waiting years to have their complaints resolved. Further down they note that

there is a risk we will not be able to meet stakeholder expectations of the time taken to complete the complaints and other contacts we receive.

Timeliness is often critical to complainants and significant failures in this regard carry the risk that people will choose not to turn to us or, if they do, the outcomes we can achieve will not be relevant, useful or appropriate.

No shit. OIA requests are often highly time sensitive. If you have to wait two to five years to get an effective response, there’s simply no point asking. And that has unpleasant implications, not just for transparency, but for confidence in our system of government overall.

But its not just complaint-handling which is underfunded. The Ombudsman also has a vital role in inspecting places of detention to ensure that detention conditions are humane. And there the targets are similarly dismal. They have a target that only 80% of their recommendations in this area are accepted. Given that these are recommendations to end inhumane treatment, I’d expect that target to be 100%. Then there’s this:

There are also approximately an additional 130 aged care facilities with dementia units that may fall within our designation in respect of health and disability places of detention. If so, we would need to seek additional funding in order to conduct regular inspections of these facilities.

Yes, they’re not even funded to inspect every class of detention facility – which means inhumane treatment may be going undetected and uncorrected.

These are serious problems. And the root cause behind most of them seems to be underfunding. The Ombudsman is our watchdog against the government. If we want it to do that job effectively, its needs to be funded properly. But what politician would ever want to do that?

9 comments on “NRT: Overstretched”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    What would it take to set up an independent trust to provide enough income for these officers to do their jobs properly?

    Any future solutions must be Tory-proof.

    • Tracey 1.1

      A PPP? ??

      • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1

        More like a charity.

        • Tracey 1.1.1.1

          A charity that gives to a crown entity to pay for salaries? Oh, I know, the national party does charitable work, they do golf days to raise money. Is that the kind of thing you mean OAB?

          • One Anonymous Bloke 1.1.1.1.1

            No, not really.

            An independent body set up with so much dosh it can live off the interest.

    • Draco T Bastard 1.2

      Make it a treasonous act that comes with a minimum 21 years in jail for the entire government if it tries to defund it.

      Thing is, I’m sure that some National led government still try it anyway. Quick way to have a snap election 😈

  2. Tracey 2

    Govtdepts and councils know how stretched they are so if you get too close to something they dont want you to get, they throw out a reason and tell you if you dont like it to go the ombudsmen. They know it will take years.

    I tell the ombudsmen it is something needed for litigation and give them hearing dates. It makes no difference.

    The weathertight tribunal is very lax on councils discovery obligations leaving some clients no where to go.

  3. Penny Bright 3

    Ok – here’s the simple solution. Make the Office of the Ombudsman responsible for the implementation of the Public Records Act 2005 – instead of the National Office of the Archives. If full and accurate public records were created and maintained – and made publicly available for public scrutiny – then there would arguably a lot less work for the Office of the Ombudsman in dealing with complaints about failings in the provision of official information. How can you have transparency and accountability without proper written records? The implementation of the Public Records Act in a full and thorough way is an absolute priority for a genuinely ‘open, transparent and accountable’ NZ at local and central government level and judiciary.

  4. Mike the Savage One 4

    This explains it all to me. I have made some own OIA requests to some government departments or agencies, and they were not satisfactory, and in some cases took far too long. Hence a couple of complaints went to the Ombudsman, and are still there, after a very long time.

    Also have I heard that the quality of Ombudsman Office decisions themselves has suffered, indicating that they do not seem keen on dealing with certain complaints, and they use discretion and all kinds of reasons to not investigate some complaints from “common” citizens or residents. A re-prioritising process leads to only very serious complaints being dealt with.

    This is in my view intentional, and the government keeps a tight grip on their purse strings, leaving Ombudsman, same as certain Commissioners and their staff, to struggle with work loads they cannot cope with.

    It is clear to many out here, that the increase of complaints can at least partly be blamed on the government and their various departments making more mistakes, on them failing in performance and duties, and so forth. Also have law changes led to more complaints, questioning the fairness of implementation and consequences that come with them.

    So much for the National Party led government’s “better public service”! This is part of the price for it.

    Democracy, justice and fairness are being denied in increasing cases, and with lack of transparency and insufficient investigations and recommendations delivered by the Ombudsman, this country is being run like an ever more “authoritarian” kind of state.

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