Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Privatisation should not be allowed to undermine transparency

There's a fascinating interview [Audio] on Nine To Noon this morning with former Ombudsman Mel Smith on privatisation and the OIA and Ombudsman Acts. Under the government's plans, companies the government plans to privatise would be immediately removed from the coverage of these Acts. Smith sees no reason for this:

My view is very clear. They should continue to be subject to both of those Acts... Acts such as those are very significant in terms of providing New Zealand citizens with an opportunity to pursue concerns that they have in respect of the organisations that are subject to the Acts. And I just can't see any argument at all to remove them.
Neither can I. If it was a local body - the Auckland Council, say - doing this, we would still retain those rights. Any company or organisation which is council-controlled is subject to both Acts. As a result, we can keep an eye on what they're doing with our money in our name.

And we need to. The OIA has been used to uncover wrongdoing by SOEs in the past - e.g. to investigate their use of PR companies to lobby government (their owners) to change policy, or the use of private investigators to spy on protestors and undermine democratic rights. Removing them from the jurisdiction of the OIA will remove that scrutiny.

The principle is simple: we own them, we should be able to see what they are doing. We apply that principle at a local government level. We should apply it to all crown-controlled companies as well.