Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Ministry of Education gets a spanking

Back in October, Campbell Live had a disturbing piece on the Ministry of Education's secrecy around the Christchurch school closures. The Ministry had instructed the Christchurch City Council to lie and say it did not hold information in order to thwart requests. They had also asked requesters to withdraw their formal requests in order to facilitate a better response. The Ombudsman took an interest, and has now issued a report [PDF] that is highly critical of the Ministry and its OIA processes. On the first point, the Ombudsman found that the Ministry's instruction to Christchurch City Council was wrong and should not have been made. On the second, they found that the Ministry was wrong to make such a suggestion, and that if taken at face value it suggests that there is a problem in the Ministry's OIA handling process. They also point out that the OIA cannot be bypassed in this way:

It is not possible to bypass the OIA. Any request for information held by an agency falls under the OIA whether the Act is mentioned or not.

As a result, the Ombudsman will now be reviewing the Ministry's OIA processes, and those across the wider public sector. I understand this practice of asking requesters to withdraw requests in order to get them processed is fairly common (though it has never happened to me), and hopefully this investigation will put an end to it.

Finally, the Ombudsman also expresses concern around the Ministry's attempts to manage information around the school closure process generally, and the widely-held perception by those affected that they are not being told enough. As a result, they will be investigating the Ministry's handling of such consultations, with a particular eye to how much information should be released proactively to inform people. Unfortunately, it looks like that won't be happening until the current round of sham-consultation is done and the decisions have been made public.