Friday, February 21, 2020

An unjustified policy

On Monday, we learned that the Marlborough District Council wanted to charge more for LGOIMA requests. The proposed policy violates OIA charging guidelines, so I asked them for the advice justifying it. MDC provided a rapid response pointing me at the relevant committee agenda item [p38 - 39]. According to that,

Requests for information received are increasing on a daily basis. Often, for example, requesters will go on a ‘fishing expedition’ against an expectation that the ratepayers should fund the costs involved in retrieval of information thought to be of interest by the media or others.
Sadly, they did not provide any statistics to back up those claims, so I asked them for those. I received the response by email yesterday:
The formal requests received through January to November 2019 are as follows:
  • January – 7
  • February – 7
  • March – 2
  • April – 13
  • May – 20
  • June – 8
  • July – 39
  • August – 48
  • September – 32
  • October – 28
  • November 20
We note that a separate history of media requests only started from July 2019 and this accounts for the difference between January/June and July/November.
Older statistics "would require compilation which would take considerable time and could trigger the application of our Costs Policy." So looking at this, it appears that the claim that "Requests for information received are increasing on a daily basis" - the justification for increased charges - is because they started counting requests which they had been handling all along. But its not actually clear that anything has really changed, or that higher charges are needed. As for the claim about "fishing expeditions", MDC sadly does not publish a disclosure log, so we can't easily tell how many of their requests would fall into this somewhat nebulous category. So, I'll just have to request some (and along the way make a judgement about how often is "often"). Because otherwise the natural conclusion is that they're objecting to this:
In the last six months, media requests in Marlborough have uncovered council representatives went a decade without a pay rise, 7000 plastic cups were purchased by the council last financial year, and $2.1 million was spent on councillor wages over the last three years.
None of these questions are very exciting, but its the ordinary business of media oversight. And it is exactly what the LGOIMA is supposed to enable. Marlborough District Council's charging regime should not be altered to discourage it.