Friday, June 20, 2014

An abuse of the OIA

So it turns out that Immigration released letters from David Cunliffe and Chris Carter in support of Donghua Liu, but kept letters from government MPs secret:

Letters of support from two Government MPs for Donghua Liu's citizenship bid have been kept secret - despite letters from Labour politicians for his residency bid being released this week.

The Herald reported in March that Liu received citizenship in 2010 against official advice after lobbying by Maurice Williamson, the Minister for Building and Construction, and John Banks, the Mayor of Auckland at the time who later entered Parliament as an Act MP.

However, the Department of Internal Affairs refused to release the letters sent by Mr Williamson and Mr Banks under the privacy and commercial provisions in the Official Information Act.

The Office of the Ombudsman is reviewing the decision but the Herald also asked the DIA to reconsider after Immigration officials released letters from Labour MPs David Cunliffe and Chris Carter written for Liu's residency bid.

This looks like a blatantly political release decision to advance the interests of the government of the day. It is an abuse of the Act which shames the entire public service and calls its impartiality into question. Transparency of official information applies to everyone, not just the government's enemies.

As for the merits, its hard to see how privacy concerns would be any greater than in the released letters. As for commercial confidentiality, any clause referring to the specifics of Liu's business dealings can simply be redacted. These letters should be released immediately.