Wednesday, February 17, 2016

OIA charging: Who charges for OIA requests?

Back in January, the Reserve Bank announced a new policy of charging for OIA requests. This focused attention on the anti-democratic practice of charging, especially given an upcoming review of the charging regime by the Ministry of Justice and former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem's suggestion that more agencies charge, so I thought I should gather some data to establish a baseline. As a result, I submitted OIA requests to every public service department seeking information on the number of requests they received, the number of times the demanded charges, the number of times they paid, and the amount collected.

Responses were due back on Monday and are collected here. The short version:

  • Out of 7,991 OIA requests made to 26 responding agencies, at least 30 attracted charges, a rate of about 0.4%. When Customs is excluded, because they are definitely an outlier, the rate is at least 4 out of 7373, or 0.05%.
  • Two agencies - the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation - claimed that they had no idea how often they charged, and that they would have to look through every OIA request to find out. This is indicative of poor record keeping and poor financial control procedures.
  • Two agencies - Corrections and the Ministry for the Environment - did not respond at all. Complaints have been lodged with the Ombudsman, and hopefully I'll be hearing from them soon.
  • 30% of agencies responded more or less immediately, within 5 working days of the request.
  • 30% of agencies took over 15 working days to respond to a simple request for data from their annual report. Which makes you wonder how committed they are to the OIA's "as soon as reasonably practicable" standard.

(I also surveyed the Reserve Bank, which previously had charged for one out of 51 requests, a rate of ~2%)

And now that we've established a baseline, we'll be able to see how charging practices change in response to the Ministry of Justice review and Ombudsman's advice. Though hopefully we'll see enough pushback from the media and requesters to make agencies conclude that the reputational damage from being routinely painted as secretive and anti-democratic simply isn't worth it.