Thursday, February 16, 2012

Starving the watchdog

The Ombudsman appeared before a select committee yesterday as part of its annual financial review, and complained that it was sinking under the weight of complaints:

Ms Wakem said the office's baseline funding had been established on the basis it would be actively working on 800 to 1000 cases at any one time.

However, actual case numbers had been far higher than that for some time and been close to 2000 at one point last year. It was currently handling about 1854.

The office had about 300 cases it was unable to work on because of a lack of available investigators.

The office's workload had also been increased by about 270 complaints stemming from quake victims' dealings with the Earthquake Commission and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority.

And its going to get worse, because when government departments cut "back-office" functions, they cut complaint handling and OIA processing. Which means more shit loaded on the Ombudsman, whose staff are quitting or suffering from ill-health due to overwork.

The Ombudsman is after an extra million dollars a year to fund the increased workload. They deserve it. This is a vital watchdog function, both for ensuring people are treated fairly by government, and for ensuring government meets its duties around transparency. The cost of skimping on it will be paid in injustice and bad policy.

Update: Chief Ombudsman Beverely Wakem is interviewed on RadioNZ about the issue here.