Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Hostile to transparency

Stuff had an appalling story on Sunday about the Ministry of Health's attempts to hide unflattering mental health statistics and sanitise a regular report. The report came out last week, and showed a massive increase in the use of "seclusion", a practice which has been condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture. But Stuff had requested the drafts and related correspondence, showing a two year battle by Ministry of Health staff to remove data which made them look bad. And this continued even after the Director-General of Health approved publication:

Half a year before the report was finally released health director-general Dr Ashley Bloomfield approved it to be published, but one of his deputies wanted to delay it further and put a “risk lens” over it.

Another official noted there was no legal requirement the report be produced and suggested shortening it. A third noted the huge amount of “data and negative statistics” which she said was presented without enough context.

But the team responsible for creating it fought for their corner, saying they were doing nothing that hadn’t been done for years – publishing annual and comparable data on how much mental health services are used in New Zealand.

Reading the whole story, it shows an outright hostility to transparency among many of the Ministry of Health's senior management team. Whether this is consistent with the Public Service Act's principle of open government is left as an exercise for the reader.

Meanwhile, this sort of attitude from Ministry of Health management makes me wonder about their handling of OIA requests. FYI has seen a significant increase in the number of requests has sought to deter by challenging eligibility, so it seems that this hostile attitude has trickled down. Apparently the Ombudsman last did a practice review of the Ministry's OIA handling back in 2015; maybe its time they did another one?

(Oh, and to add insult to injury, Jacinda Ardern has said in question time that the Ministry of Health's handling of this is an example of how Labour is the "most transparent and accountable government ever". I guess its not just the Ministry which is hostile to transparency then...)