Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Unlawful and unacceptable

Since the Christchurch earthquakes, EQC has been inundated with OIA requests, as homeowners have resorted to statutory mechanisms in the face of bullshit from officials. Their response? Don't answer anything for five months

Frustrated Cantabrians hunting for information on their broken homes have swamped EQC with thousands of Official Information Act requests, pushing the 20-day response deadline out to an unprecedented five months.

Christchurch homeowners say waiting almost half a year for crucial information on their properties is "inexcusable" and the chief ombudsman says the current waiting list is "not satisfactory".


[Andrea Laws] filed her first request in early August 2012 and said she received only part of the information in mid-September.

EQC refused to send Laws any more information for months until she complained to the ombudsman, she said.

"They really didn't want to do the OIA. I had to ask them two or three times where my response was and when it came through there was email correspondence that said: ‘Do not provide the claimant with information or time frames'," she said.

This is unlawful and it is unacceptable. On the first front, the OIA requires a response " as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days" after the request is received. While the twenty-day limit can be extended, that cna only happen if it is for or requires searching a large volume of information, or if required by consultations with other agencies. Being flooded with requests and just not feeling like doing them is not an excuse. Any agency faced with such a situation should be hiring extra staff to cope, not ignoring requests.

Sadly, there seems to be little we can do about it. It is not a crime for agency CEO's to flagrantly ignore the law, and they face no employment penalty for doing so. And that is simply not good enough. EQC is a Crown Agent. Its members can be removed summarily by the Minister. And unless they clean their act up and start obeying the law, that's exactly what should happen.