Monday, May 20, 2019

Ignoring the Ombudsman

Back in 2017, after then-Transport Minister Simon Bridges had been caught red-handed unlawfully interfering with an OIA request about Auckland rail upgrades, the Ombudsman recommended that government agencies develop formal protocols with Ministers to limit Ministerial interference. So how's that workign out? Sadly, its not:

Ministers and government agencies have ignored the Ombudsman's plea for signed agreements outlawing political meddling in Official Information Act (OIA) responses.

Two years after the Ombudsman urged agencies to agree terms to avoid "perceptions of impropriety", none of the 30 departments surveyed have done so. Two have agreements in the pipelines.


While Boshier found KiwiRail did not act "contrary to the law", its OIA process was "less than ideal". As a result, he drafted a model agreement, promising ministers "will not provide inappropriate input, such as raising irrelevant considerations (like political embarrassment)".

However, a Stuff survey of 32 agencies found none yet had a signed agreement with their minister. Internal Affairs is finalising an agreement and the Ministry for Primary Industries is working with the Ombudsman to improve its OIA process, including a signed protocol.

KiwiRail still has no agreement and sends all OIA requests to shareholding ministers and transport-related ones to the Transport Minister.

Which suggests that Ministers still want to unlawfully interfere in requests, and agencies are unwilling to stand up to them. As for what to do about it, we need a statutory requirement for such agreements, and criminal penalties for interference. But what Minister is going to vote for that?