Monday, December 07, 2015

The Dom Post on the Ombudsman

The Dominion Post doesn't hold back in its editorial on the departing Ombudsman:

The Ombudsman is the guardian of the citizen's right to know. Politicians and bureaucrats by their nature don't want to share information, because information is power. The Official Information Act forces them to share and makes the Ombudsman a kind of tribune of the people.

What a shame, then, that retiring Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem is leaving office amid a cloud of justified controversy. Her recent remarks make her look less like a champion of freedom than a friend of the powerful.

It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as "rottweilers on heat" and warning them not to annoy "innately conservative" officials who might then become "gun-shy". These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman.

It is not for the Chief Obudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being "gun-shy" can mean here – when they are irritated.

The Official Information Act requires the government to provide information unless there is good reason not to. The reasons for refusal are laid out in statute. The law must determine when the gate is open and when it is shut, not the manners of the applicant or the mood of the gatekeeper.

Wakem's comments were outrageous and called her fitness for office into question. as the Dom Post argues, if she'd made them at the beginning of her career, they'd be grounds for demanding her resignation. Instead, she's making them as she leaves - and in the process, called every decision she has ever made into question. And as a result, she's not going to be missed when she's gone.