Thursday, July 19, 2012

The OIA and costs

Solid Energy (and Air New Zealand) chair John Palmer appeared before a select committee yesterday, during which he made some claims about the "burden" of the OIA on the SOE:

Palmer, who is also chairman of state-owned Solid Energy, said the number of requests the coalminer received under the Official Information Act was “a very serious drain on management time, management effort and management costs”.
"It costs too much money" is a common claim by those seeking to evade public oversight (witness the sustained whinging by British officials during their recent FOIA review). I'd ask Palmer to substantiate it, by providing statistics on the number of requests received, the number of staff assigned to deal with them, the cost of those staff etc - but thanks to National's privatisation bill (which removed Solid Energy and other privatisation targets from the OIA), I can't. Palmer will no doubt be happy about that. But I don't think any of the rest of us should be. The OIA provided an invaluable window into what these government-owned companies were doing and how they were managing our money. Now, thanks to John Key, we've lost that window. And the cost of that, in waste, mismanagement, and anti-democratic behaviour, could be quite high.

Update: Apparently the State-Owned Enterprises Amendment Act 2012 (which removes those companies from the oversight of the Ombudsman and OIA) is not yet in force. As a result, someone is loding an inquiry today about Solid Energy's OIA traffic and costs, to see whether it really is the burden Palmer claims it to be.