Monday, December 05, 2022

Yet another OIA inquiry

All year the Ombudsman has been trying to tell us that everything is fine with the OIA. But earlier in the year he released another report showing problems, particularly around ministerial interference and stonewalling, and now he's been forced to open another inquiry into precisely those problems:

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier will investigate journalists' complaints that government departments excessively delay responding to Official Information Act (OIA) requests.


Boshier said reporters had complained that when information was finally released “it belongs in the history books rather than the headlines” and limited the public’s ability to participated in decision-making.

“I am worried delays are leading to the perception – especially among journalists – that the Official Information Act is being used as a bureaucratic tool to stifle the flow of information. This is not in line with the principle of availability that is the foundation of this law,” Boshier said in a statement on Monday.

I have stuff I'd like to say here, but I can't, because I'm gagged - by the Ombudsman. Which is a bit shit really.

But what I can say, without breaching any "confidentiality" the Ombudsman purports to unilaterally impose, is that we have known for a long time that there are effectivley two OIA's - one for routine, non-controversial requests, and one for "political" requests about information Ministers and officials would rather not reveal. Requests of the first type are granted speedily, or at least within the time limit. Requests of the second time are extended, stonewalled, or just shitcanned. And government gets away with this in part because the Ombudsman drags his feet investigating, doesn't open formal investigations, doesn't use his powers to put Ministers and public servants on the carpet, and never, ever reports formally to Parliament when he discovers unlawful behaviour. In other words, the watchdog is asleep, and is disinclined to bite. And so Ministers get away with murder.

Meanwhile, at her postcab press conference the Prime Minister was hiding behind Te Kawa Mataaho's statistics to claim that everything is fine. The problem of course is that the statistics are... not good, distorted by statutory non-OIA requests, and gamed by agencies seeking to make themselves look good. But that doesn't matter, because the purpose isn't so much to illuminate problems as to help Ministers bury them - as we're seeing today.

Anyway, the Ombudsman will inquire, and in six months to a year they'll release a report, which may highlight some problems. And it will join all the other ones on the shelf. The OIA has been under permanent investigation for the best part of a decade. But part of the problem is that Ministers and officials aren't willing to actually do anything about the findings, and the Ombudsman isn't willing to step up enforcement to force them. Which suggests that what we need isn't yet another Ombudsman's inquiry, but an actual law with teeth,and a watchdog willing to enforce it.