Tuesday, March 05, 2019

"The most transparent government ever" - yet again

Shortly after being elected, Labour promised to be "the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had". Now they're being criticised by the Ombudsman for excessive secrecy:

The Ombudsman is warning government departments not to use the Official Information Act as a way of dragging their feet in response to media enquiries.

The National Party said there was an increasing tendency for government agencies to treat straightforward media queries as OIA requests, which then gave them 20 working days to respond.


Ombudsman Peter Boshier agreed.

"For things to be delayed is not acceptable, public debate now is very current on issues and we need to enhance that and support it."

The speed of digital news meant demand for information was quite different to 10 or 15 years ago, he said.

"And I think government departments have to accept that this is the requirement of the modern era."

Technically, every request for information from a government agency is an OIA request. But most are handled informally by just giving out the information, and that's the way it should be. Agency PR flacks treating routine inquiries as requests requiring a formal process with the intent of delaying them for twenty days defeats the purpose of the Act.

Agencies do what they think the Ministers want them to do, so if they're being more secretive, the responsibility for that lies with Ministers. And it is up to Ministers to make it clear that they expect their agencies to be open and transparent, provide information to the public on request, and comply fully with the law where they have to handle a request formally. The refusal of Labour Ministers to do so makes it clear that they are not truly interested in transparency.