Friday, June 19, 2009

Image-driven control freakery

Last month, the Herald revealed that National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi was suspected by the Immigration Service of paying off a woman at the centre of allegations he had made bogus job offers. The information - a report on the investigation from the Immigration Service - was obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act. Now Immigration Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman has started a witch-hunt to find out why the information was released without his permission.

This is absolutely outrageous. The department has applied the law, weighed the grounds for withholding information against the public interest, found that none of them applied, and released the information. Coleman wants to second-guess that, on explicitly political grounds: preventing information embarrassing to the government from coming to light. Worse, he expects this to be a permanent part of how OIA requests are handled by his department:

Dr Coleman yesterday said the internal inquiry was called because "that OIA didn't come through my office as every other OIA should".
This is expressly contrary to the spirit, intent and letter of the law. As the Danks Report pointed out way back in 1980,
The fact that the release of certain information may give rise to criticism or embarrassment of the government is not an adequate reason for withholding it from the public.
Unfortunately this sort of image-driven control-freakery over OIA requests is par for the course for this government. But that's what we have an ombudsman for.