Friday, June 16, 2017

National vs the OIA 3

Last week we had a blatant example of Ministerial interference in an OIA request, with Transport Minister Simon Bridges trying to bully KiwiRail into unlawfully refusing information. Yesterday the information was released, with substantial redactions suggesting Ministerial pressure. And today we learn that that is exactly what happened:

The new correspondence shows the state-owned company eventually conceded after Mr Bridges' officials escalated the matter to one of KiwiRail's executives.

On 6 June, KiwiRail reversed its initial decision to release the document in full and instead decided to withhold it altogether.

It changed its draft response to read: "Disclosing the document could inhibit KiwiRail from carrying out, without prejudice, future negotiations."

Mr Bridges' staff immediately replied: "The Office is supportive of this response."

However just days earlier, on 1 June, KiwiRail said its legal advice was that releasing the report "would be unlikely to prejudice our negotiations".

Given that the "negotiations" were with the government over budget funding, it really makes you wonder whether the Minister (or their office) told them "if you release this, you won't be getting any money".

This is a perfect example of Ministerial bullying, and of why we want Ministers kept away from OIA responses as much as possible. Ministers are interested not in transparency, but in whether information makes them look good. And they appear to be quite happy to break the law to suppress information which doesn't. The good news is that this has apparently been appealed to the Ombudsman, and with a document trail showing this sort of Ministerial pressure (based on the document supposedly being misleading and wrong - which are not reasons for withholding but rather reasons to release more information along with it), it should be an open and shut case.