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Political interference in the OIA

Written By: - Date published: 8:15 am, December 9th, 2015 - 14 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, censorship, Dirty Politics, law - Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday saw the release of the Obmudsman’s long (and long awaited) review of the operation of the Official Information Act (OIA). RNZ reported:

Govt agencies on notice over OIA

The Chief Ombudsman is putting government agencies on notice for their compliance with the Official Information Act (OIA).

Over the past year, Dame Beverley Wakem has carried out a comprehensive review of the operation of the OIA by investigating the practices of 12 selected government agencies under it.

Read the full report from Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem

The report found some ministerial officials had tried to limit the scope of information released under the act, and there was a level of distrust among those making OIA requests.

Dame Beverley was satisfied that, overall, agencies were compliant with the OIA and government officials working within agencies had a genuine desire to ensure they were compliant.

Vernon Small on Stuff wrote:

Ombudsman says bureaucrats resist political interference under OIA

A review of the Official Information Act (OIA) has found no direct evidence of “political censorship” though some ministerial officials tried to limit the release of information “for unwarranted reasons”. …

With all due respect Vernon, no “direct” evidence is weasel words, officials trying to limit information for unwarranted reasons sounds a lot like political censorship to me, and (title) the fact that bureaucrats have to “resist” political interference means that political interference is being applied. None of that is acceptable!

Here are some extracts from the report itself:

I found government agencies were receiving mixed messages from Ministers as to their expectations in terms of compliance with the OIA and more generally with the promotion of openness and accountability and enhanced public engagement. This has enabled doubt and suspicion to grow amongst the public as to whether their requests for access to official information will be treated appropriately and in accordance with the law by Ministers and their agencies. It is important that this is corrected.

Mixed messages from Ministers? Which Ministers are not expecting compliance with the law?

I found evidence that suggested a small number of ministerial officials were attempting to limit the scope of requests for official information or change an agency’s proposed decision for unwarranted reasons. Such attempts were rejected by agency officials and the final decisions made by the agency were compliant with the OIA.

It is unacceptable that pressures are being brought to bear on officials, and unbelievable that they are always “rejected” – as per the manipulation of the OIA exposed by Dirty Politics (I wonder if the Ombudsman has read it).

However, I also saw evidence of ministerial/political advisors using the opportunity they were given to review the response prior to release under the auspices of an ‘FYI’, to try to convince the agency to change the final decision the agency had made by seeking to:

• limit the scope of the request;
• alter the decision proposed by the agency; and/or
• reduce the additional contextual information the agency proposed to include in the response.

A number of the submissions received also described bitter, confrontational discussions with Ministers and their ministerial/political advisors about certain OIA responses.

Once again this all sounds very much like political interference in the OIA to me.

Here’s some summary comments by I/S at No Right Turn:

There’s some useful recommendations in here about record-keeping, the need for standardised protocols governing interactions with Ministers’ offices, and the need for public commitment to transparency. It would be nice if something came of them. But with a Prime Minister who publicly admits to gaming the OIA and an SSC who wants nothing to do with it, I don’t expect much. Things will only change when we get political change, to a government which values transparency. And that is at least two years away.

I think that the report stops short of outright saying so, but makes clear an unacceptable level of political interference in the process, albeit not at the level that was rampant in Dirty Politics.


Update:

14 comments on “Political interference in the OIA ”

  1. NZJester 2

    But then the book Dirty Politics has been discredited hasn’t it?
    Oh no that’s right only in stories put out in right wing blogs and opinion pieces written by right wing so called journalists in news papers has it been called discredited.
    None of the evidence in the book when actually looked at has been discredited at all.
    The recent string of stories of those on the right trying to claim that Crusher Collins was cleared of wrongdoing as laid out in Dirty Politics is their latest whitewash attempt at her history.
    Key kept her inquiry so narrow that none of what was in the book was allowed to be used, so claiming it is discredited due to her being exonerated is a lie!

    • ropata 2.1

      If there was anything incorrect in Dirty Politics you can bet that FJK and cronies would have howled about it and taken Mr. Hager to court. But they best they could do is some police harassment and trumped up charges. No doubt this will all be fodder for Hager’s next book.

      Judging by the redneck reaction to DP, the RWNJ element will go even more nuts when Hager’s next one is published, and they’ll invent another kangaroo court to try Hager for daring to criticise our infallible Saviour, Johnny Ponyboy Key

  2. Dot 3

    This Government is seriously undermining our democracy and the ombudsman’s report just adds to the evidence,
    sadly this Ombudsman has not been of good service to we the people by freeing transparency, only choosing timidly to serve power. Why don’t the issues covered in Dirty Politics feature?
    When are more Newzealanders ‘ going to wake up and speak out !
    I am confident that history will not be so kind to John Key thanks to the documented work of Nicky Hager.

    • Smilin 3.1

      yes i agree, Dirty Politics too many serious points to address I suppose and that the majority of it is probably controlled by the Police

  3. Mike the Savage One 4

    I call total BS on “Dame” Beverley Wakem, she has been an abject failure herself to fulfill her role as Ombudsman, and I do NOT accept this quote:
    “Dame Beverley was satisfied that, overall, agencies were compliant with the OIA and government officials working within agencies had a genuine desire to ensure they were compliant.”

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/speaker-of-parliament-complaint-abt-ombudsman-hdc-complt-handling-anon-xx-05-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/speaker-house-of-repr-complaint-abt-ombudsman-office-reply-anon-25-08-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/speaker-house-of-repr-complaint-abt-ombudsman-office-reply-anon-hilit-25-08-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/speaker-of-parliament-complaint-abt-ombudsman-rqst-f-inquiry-reply-to-dec-anon-05-09-15.pdf

    There is MUCH more to this, and that cannot be made available at least at this stage. Dame Beverley is whitewashing, that is what some very trusted friends of mine firmly assure me!

    And the Speaker has washed his own hands in innocence, as he can claim that it is limited as to what he can do. We are served more nonsensical explanations and excuses, Dame Beverley does not want her retirement any minute now “disturbed”, and nor does Parliament, where MPs hold the usual silly Christmas message speeches, want to be bothered. Certainly the government is happy, as they got what they wanted, a let off, with a wet bus ticket on the wrist, no more.

    The Ombudsman’s Office NEVER really consulted the persons using their complaint services for OIA complaints, as they only conducted a marginal, last minute, irrelevant small survey at the very end of it (few if any every heard of it, as it was not made public):

    4 days Left to answer Ombudsmen Survey

    Apart from that it was all “consulting” the vested interest parties, the ones that should be held accountable, and they will of course have told Dame Beverley, “we are doing all we can”, bla, bla, bla.

    I am amazed at how so many NZers simply accept such crap, shrug their shoulders and turn away, while their country is run almost like a crap “banana republic”, nothing much better.

    It is a total disgrace how this country is run, and how so few stand up for anything these days!

    Perhaps also look at this, which is another story, how the useless Health and Disability Commissioner Office is run:
    https://nzhealthcarefraud.wordpress.com/open-letter-human-rights-complaint/

    I know many that have many more sad stories to tell, it is only due to them being the let down minority, the weak, the sick, disabled, that this shit goes on, and even Labour does not mention the name “beneficiary” as A. Little did fail to do in Question Time in Parliament today. Shame on New Zealand, shame!

    • Tracey 4.1

      IF she found instances of overbearing or bullying behaviour by Ministers or their offices she will, of course, have laid a complaint with DOL for bullying and unsafe workplaces under the Health and Safety Act, right?

  4. Mike the Savage One 5

    Unresolved, or not satisfactorily responded to Ombudsman Office complaint matters:

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-o-i-a-to-msd-public-interest-re-dr-bratt-anon-xx-03-2014.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-msd-o-i-a-rqst-16-01-14-dr-bratt-presentation-info-ltr-xx-12-14.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-o-i-a-to-msd-dr-bratt-publ-int-prov-dec-compl-hilit-22-05-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-3xxxxx-msd-o-i-a-fr-16-01-14-bratt-presentations-anon-ltr-13-06-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-msd-o-i-a-rqst-16-01-14-dr-bratt-presentation-info-hilit-dec-23-06-15.pdf

    New Zealand and it’s Officers of Parliament are now open to questions about their abidance with the rule of law and natural justice, and the Ombudsman Act, I think we are getting a total disservice to New Zealanders, a shambles, that is what we get.

    Some of the above has NOT been addressed and answered to for years, and I fear it will never be, as it appears the Office of Ombudsmen are NOT doing their job, or choosing to rather cover for government and whatever they do (who decide whether they get paid after all)!

  5. Mike the Savage One 6

    This country is a fucking joke, going by the info I and friends have at hand, but most rather accept the lies, and move on, I cannot believe this idiocy and crap going on, well, it proves all I thought before:

  6. Mike the Savage One 7

    I am amazed at the ignorance of “western” leaders and election campaign leaders such as Donald The Dumb Trump, so he goes on about his shit, who ever asked WHY jihadists took over and are appealing in the mid east? It is perhaps that they proved to be less corrupt compared by all the western and Russian supported regimes there were. So there you go, ISIS is the worst, corrupt example, not e ven adhering to islam, so all are supposed to be bad. I have no probs with islamists, as long as they abide by law and respect minorities, and even Al Nusra may fit that, but the west and Russia are idiots and want to dig their own grave. That is my position besides of the corrupt OIA process i n this stupid country. It is a joke, and most people here are a sick joke.

  7. newsense 9

    so puttem in quote marks Vern

  8. Tracey 10

    “A number of the submissions received also described bitter, confrontational discussions with Ministers and their ministerial/political advisors about certain OIA responses.”

    Sounds like Bullying by anEmployer to me. Collins recently completed an extra mural paper in Health and Safety so she can be the Cabinet’s Health adn Safety officer ensuring their is no bullying of staff.

    BUWAHAHHAHAHAHA

  9. NZJester 11

    It is amazing how the National government can get such a large anonymous donations war chest, when there is meant to be a limit on the amount an individual can donate anonymously.
    They are certainly gaming that system as well as the OIA.

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