Thursday, May 16, 2024

The Ombudsman fails again

In 2020, the Operation Burnham inquiry reported back, finding that NZDF had lied to Ministers and the New Zealand public about its actions in Afghanistan. The inquiry saw a large number of documents declassified and released, which raised another problem: whether they had also lied to the Ombudsman in his investigation of OIA requests for information about NZDF's operations. Today, after a two year inquiry, it appears the answer is "sortof":

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says the Defence Force acted “unreasonably”, but did not wilfully mislead him, after it failed to provide him information related to Operation Burnham.


In the findings of this second investigation, Boshier criticised the Defence Force for providing an “incomplete” summary of the raid to the public which had “significantly underplayed” the nature and scope of the raid.

He said the Defence Force had omitted to provide him access to all relevant information during his earlier investigation, due to “poor record keeping practices and processes for retrieving information”.

He also said the Defence Force had exaggerated the “sensitivity” of its documents, and the defence chief, Air Marshal Kevin Short, acknowledged ongoing “over-classification” of information.

“This serious information gap undermined my initial investigation and meant the NZDF [Defence Force] avoided being accountable,” Boshier said, in a press statement.

...which was the point of the exercise. And it appears to have worked again, with the Ombudsman refusing to find that NZDF commited a crime, even one against the Public Records Act (which, ironically, carries a higher penalty than deliberately obstructing the Ombudsman). Meanwhile, the consistent pattern uncovered by the Burnham inquiry, of damning material being buried in safes to hide it from future investigation, is ignored. The Ombudsman suggests NZDF’s records management staff not being told of this was just "poor practice", but when it is done so consistently, it looks like something else: a criminal conspiracy. The Ombudsman, as the guardian of the public's mana, should have called them out. If they were too cowardly to do so, we really need to ask what good they are.