Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Publicity and the OIA

Yesterday's post on Steven Joyce's unlawful refusal of an OIA request because the information might be "misconstrued" has got me thinking. One of the reasons Ministers and agencies are able to get away with such egregious and unlawful behaviour is because it normally happens in secret. There's thus no political cost to ignoring the Act or making blatantly unlawful decisions.

The answer is clearly more scrutiny. If Ministers know their performance and decision-making are being scrutinised, they will take more care with them. And if they behave illegally, then people will know of it and they will pay a political cost.

The problem is combining this with the privacy rights of requestors. One solution is for victims of poor decision-making to publicise it themselves, and I'd strongly encourage this (given that the majority of requests come from media and political organisations, I'm surprised they don't already). Another is more publicity around Ombudsmen's rulings - currently there's a little information in their annual report, but not much else available to the public, which means we don't hear about it if a bad Ministerial decision is overturned. Which of course helps bad decision-makers.

(Having robust statistics on timeliness would also help here, and its something the government should be doing, rather than leaving it to random bloggers to compile for them).