Thursday, May 07, 2015

An unaccountable oversight

On Tuesday the New Zealand Business Number Bill passed its first reading. Its a boring administrative bill, and normally I wouldn't give it a second glance. But it has an unusual feature: the regulator it creates, the Registrar of New Zealand Business Numbers, will not be subject to the Official Information Act.

This is almost certainly an oversight rather than a deliberate policy decision. Maybe someone thought that having the Registrar appointed under the State Sector Act was enough. Or that they would be part of MBIE and included by them (nope. Section 2 (4A) OIA says that information held under one hat can't be requested because someone wears another). More likely, they didn't think about it at all, despite a requirement in the Legislation Advisory Committee Guidelines that

All public bodies should be subject to the Ombudsmen Act 1975, the Public Audit Act 2001, the Public Records Act 2005, the Official Information Act 1982 (or the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987)

But in order for that to happen, they need to be explicitly scheduled (the Public Records Act 2005 being the exception here - being an instrument of the executive is enough). And there is no clause scheduling the Registrar under any of those Acts in the Bill. Meaning that its decisions will not be able to be challenged through the Ombudsman, its administration will not be able to be overseen through the OIA, and its finances will not be able to be checked by the Auditor-General. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty significant oversight - and enough to make you question the basic competence of the department responsible.

Naturally, I'll be making a submission (as well as some OIA requests). But it would be better if I didn't have to, and if departments conformed to basic legislative guidelines before embarrassing themselves in this manner.