Wednesday, October 17, 2012

National's agenda: unaccountability and secrecy

Last month, in their annual report, the Ombudsman strongly criticised the government for "highly dangerous" attempts to remove public bodies from the coverage of the Official Information Act. And now National is at it again, this time over charter schools. The proposed s158X of the new Education Amendment Bill gives charter schools a blanket exemption from government oversight:

The Ombudsmen Act 1975 and Official Information Act 1982 do not apply to a sponsor of a partnership school kura hourua when the sponsor is performing functions under this Act or a partnership school contract.

Which doesn't just mean that the media, politicians and members of the public won't be able to scrutinise charter school policies and decision-making - it also means that if your kid goes to such a school, and they are treated unfairly, then you will have no right to demand answers, or to fair treatment, unless of course you are rich enough to be able to bring a High Court judicial review under the BORA - because that thankfully will still apply. If you're poor, however, you can kiss justice and fairness goodbye.

National's agenda here is clear: unaccountability and secrecy. Yes, they really do think that bodies receiving public money perform better if they do so in total secrecy, with no independent oversight. Yes, these schools will have a contract with the Minister. But the incentives of such an arrangement are to set low performance standards so as to ensure "success" while looking the other way even on blatant failure so as to avoid political embarrassment. We have only to look at the debacle of our private prisons to see that.

There is a simple principle at stake here: if an agency receives public money to do public work, then we should be able to see what they are doing. That principle should apply to charter schools. It is that simple.