Friday, March 30, 2012

A good idea

I've made some noise over the past few weeks about the crisis at the Ombudsman's Office, where funding has failed to keep pace with workload to the extent that staff are quitting and the organisation can't even afford to publish its casenotes. Over on Frogblog, MikeM suggests a solution:

There’s an obvious incentive for controversial governments to make life hard for the Ombudsman’s Office, and it makes me wonder if there could be benefit in another layer of abstraction, whereby rather than being entirely funded directly, the Ombudsman’s Office charges the cost of investigations back to the department or other government entity that it’s investigating.

The Ombudsman would then be shielded from direct political interference through manipulation of funding, whilst Ministers and and government entities would also gain an incentive to provoke fewer investigations by doing things correctly the first time around.

This seems like a damn good idea. Investigations would be funded, and departments would have a direct financial incentive to obey the law. So the police, to pick one example, wouldn't be able to treat the OIA with utter contempt and fail to respond to requests, without facing scrutiny from Parliament over the reasons for their sudden budget blowout. Meanwhile, because agencies would have to budget for these costs, we’d also be able to see what they felt was an acceptable level of error, and apply political pressure to reduce that waste.

The office would still require some direct funding for own-motion investigations and statutory monitoring roles, and for investigations where it decides to waive charges. But recovering costs from agencies seems to be a no-brainer.