Friday, October 16, 2015

The continuing failure of the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman released their annual report yesterday. The headline news? They're still failing to meet their targets for investigating OIA complaints:

Comparing with last year's dismal outcomes, they're resolving non-investigated complaints and urgent investigations quicker - and doing worse in everything else. So unsurprisingly, complaints about OIA delays have dropped again, because people know that they just won't get a remedy.

But the Ombudsman has a solution to this problem: change the stats so they don't look so bad! So instead of reporting against timeliness for each category of investigation, next year they'll report net clearance rates and a broad resolution rate for 6 and 12 month timeframes. That won't solve the underlying problem, of course - but it will prevent blogposts like this every time they release their annual report.

(What might solve the underlying problem is the new funding they were given in Budget 2015. But thanks to changing the stats, we'll never know. And because they're not subject to the OIA, we can't ask)

The most dismal stat in the entire thing:

We finished the year with 838 OIA complaints and 161 LGOIMA complaints on hand.

...which is about a year's worth of work. And they're falling behind - their clearance rate this year was only 89%.

The Official Information Act needs a well-funded, effective watchdog to work properly. At the moment, we don't have one, and people know it. The result will be increasing lawlessness by agencies and a loss of confidence in the entire system (and the Ombudsman) by requesters. And once that confidence is lost, it will be extremely difficult to get back.