Thursday, March 25, 2021

Today's bad OIA story

Back in 2017 Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission (or SSC as it used to be known) began to publish OIA statistics. The problem is that they're pretty shit, giving information only on timeliness and complaint numbers, when other countries give a full range of information on response times, extensions, transfers, and outcomes. In recognition of this, TKM-PSC has produced guidance on what statistics should be collected, in the hope of expanding the available data-set. I'm eager for better statistics (you can't manage what you don't measure, and there are suggestions that the current system encourages managing to timeliness - that is, unnecessary extensions or unjustified refusals to avoid lateness), so last month I asked 34 core government agencies how they were doing against TKM-PSC's criteria.

Responses to these requests were due yesterday. 27 agencies responded on time. Four issued purported extensions for "consultations" (I say "purported" because there's no evidence that these consultations were "necessary" - the legal requirement - and in at least one case the agency admitted it was purely because of their failure to manage their workload properly). And three didn't even bother to respond at all. I have a zero-tolerance policy for OIA bullshit, and a somewhat naive belief that findings of illegality might change agency behaviour, so each of these has resulted in a complaint to the Ombudsman.

That's a damning statistic right there: fully 20% of requests for easily accessible, uncontroversial information about what statistics were collected required Ombudsman's complaints. This isn't how the Act is meant to work, but its where we are now. Poor leadership from successive governments and public service commissioners has allowed a culture of non-compliance to fester, grow, and become routine. And the government has no intention of fixing it any time soon.

(As for the results themselves, that'll have to wait until I have the full data-set).