Wednesday, December 20, 2017

OIA dieback infects MPI

The Herald has another story about the abuse of the OIA, this time at MPI. Forest & Bird requested information from MPI on its handling of Kauri dieback. MPI dragged its feet, and extended the timeframe into the never-never. The Ombudsman has now ruled their extension was unlawful - and oddly, the information was released immediately, suggesting that the delay was political rather than practical:

The Ombudsman has asked the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to apologise to Forest and Bird after the group waited for months to receive information it had requested about kauri dieback management.

The group has accused MPI of sitting on the documents, which were released one day after Ombudsman Leo Donnelly responded to its complaint over the four-month delay.

However, MPI insists it released the information "immediately after it was ready".

So why didn't MPI want to release the information? The request was prompted by several reports of how the response to Kauri dieback was mismanaged, so there's an obvious reason there. And if you're in any doubt, there's a piece in New Zealand Geographic about both Kauri dieback and the MPI response, which ought to dispel any doubts. Its very clear from it that MPI has simply not bothered to fund the basic science into this disease. It seems that it thinks its biosecurity responsibilities only extend to subsidising commercial industry, not in protecting our iconic species from extinction. Scientists have said what research is needed, told them what they need to do. MPI has ignored them, apparently because it thinks there is some "conflict of interest" (which sounds like the same sort of argument climate change deniers used against studying climate change). When they have responded, its taken six or seven years to get things done. During which the disease has spread.

Interestingly, New Zealand Geographic has its own OIA horror-story on this issue:
It has been difficult to report more extensively on the Kauri Dieback Programme’s work as MPI failed to supply information to New Zealand Geographic. The Official Information Act dictates that government agencies must respond to requests for information within 20 working days, or 40 in special cases. As this magazine went to print, 55 working days had elapsed without New Zealand Geographic receiving any of the documents it had requested. The matter has now been referred to the Ombudsman.

Which is beginning to look a lot like an agency trying to cover up its own mistakes, rather than one which is obeying the law. As for the solution, I think the Minister needs to make it crystal clear that this is unacceptable, and that he expects information to be released in a timely fashion, and to set some incentives to make that happen. Starting with firing the Chief Executive for cause if there is any repeat of this criminality. And if the Minister doesn't do that, then the opposition needs to be asking him why not in Parliament every day. Otherwise, MPI's case of OIA dieback will spread and infect other departments.