Monday, July 03, 2017

Not getting the message

It seems that some government agencies still aren't getting the message about transparency:

Inland Revenue hopes to keep the lobbying it received over a proposed clampdown on multinational tax avoidance secret until after the Government has decided what it will do.

The tax department has been criticised by Labour after deciding to keep secret 38 submissions it received in response to two public consultations that closed in April.


[The Office of the Ombudsman] pointed to a case note it issued in 2012 that concerned the Ministry of Social Development's refusal to release submissions made in response to public consultations over policies relating to vulnerable children.

The ministry had also claimed that "premature disclosure" of submissions would prejudice the ability of ministers and officials to consider the submissions "in an effective and orderly manner".

But former chief ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said in the case note that "ombudsmen rejected the argument that premature release of public submissions would impede the subsequent development and consideration of policy advice by officials and ministers".

"Disclosure of submissions cannot pre-empt or prejudice the ability to consider later advice that may in part be based on the submissions," she said.

Ombudsman's decisions aren't formal precedent, and yet you'd expect them to be a strong influence on an agency's decision-making (if only out of fear that their decision might be overturned). And their reason for doing so is explicitly anti-democratic: to keep us dirty peasants in the dark, especially about the degree of influence corporate lobbyists have over the eventual decision.

Hopefully IRD's decision will be promptly overturned. But it shouldn't have to be. They should have released all submissions immediately as a matter of course. People should not have to go to the Ombudsman to get something that basic 35 years after the OIA was passed.