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.
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.
Dear Anthony Robins. I don't need yr "due respect". It was a news report. No direct political censorship were Wakem's words not mine.
— Vernon Small (@VernonSmall) December 8, 2015