Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"The most transparent government ever"?

In its Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, the government promised to "Test the merits of undertaking a review of the Official Information Act 1982 and provide and publish advice to Government". Originally, they planned to do this in secret, but when that was exposed, moved to public consultation. So how's it going? Sadly, it doesn't seem to be a priority:

A decision on whether to review 40-year-old Official Information laws has been quietly pushed back.

In March, Justice Ministry officials asked the public for feedback on how freedom of information legislation is working, with a view to carrying out a review.

A decision was due to be made by Justice Minister Andrew Little in June.

But documents published by the Ministry and the State Services Commission show that has been delayed until September.

"The most transparent government ever"? Yeah, right. And remember, this is a review of whether to have a review.

Meanwhile, I have been working my way through the submissions - which you can read here - and a number of themes have emerged. There is a strong strand of public servants complaining about Ministers and "no surprises" management pressuring them to make unlawful withholding decisions. There is strong demand from requesters for criminal penalties for intentionally and unlawfully thwarting requests - something supported by those public servants, and by the Ombudsman, who see it as giving them something to point to to resist Ministerial demands. There is widespread dissatisfaction from both sides with the slowness of the Ombudsman's review process, and from requesters about its one-sided nature. Almost all of the experts given followup interviews supported a full review (though some from the Law Commission wanted the government to implement their previous one), and none of them supported impunity for proactive release (which Ministry of Justice has been using this process to push). Any honest reading of these submisisons would find that the OIA should be reviewed. The question is whether "the most transparent government ever" wants to do that, or whether they want to retain the status quo. Hmmm, I wonder...