Thursday, July 29, 2010

Absolutely unacceptable

The Dominion-Post reports this morning that the Pork Industry Board - a statutory body established to boost returns to pig farmers - is attempting to evade the Official Information Act. Faced with the possibility that they will have to make the results of an audit of pig farms public, they have instead hatched a scheme to keep it secret:

The leaked email, sent to farmers on behalf of the Pork Industry Board, said: "It is likely there will be a number of farms requiring corrective actions and ... those actions could cause embarrassment to the farmer if made public and could cause embarrassment to the industry if used by animal welfarists, [so] some alternatives to current procedures were put forward."

A suggested alternative would mean only the farmer and auditor would hold "completed documentation", with the board notified of pass, fail, or "pending corrective actions (unspecified)".

Board chief executive Sam McIvor said its legal advice suggested the audit report would belong to the farmer, meaning it was personal information.

Fortunately, the attempt is unlikely to succeed - information held by a private contractor is deemed to be held by an agency and so "official information". But it is absolutely unacceptable. The board is a statutory body, scheduled in the OIA. It has a duty to obey the OIA - and not just its letter, but its spirit. And if they won't, then the Minister should exercise their power (under s2(1) of Schedule 2) to remove them from office for breaching their duties.