It has become a truism that that Official Information Act needs to be fixed.
Ask any journalist and for every story where the Act is working well there are many more stories where it is not. There are delays upon delays, responses that don't answer questions, spurious use of withholding grounds, and even straight out refusals to release information.
The NZ Council for Civil Liberties is a strong supporter of open and transparent government. The OIA, by allowing oversight of government actions, provides a powerful brake on the misuse of government power and is a key part of our democracy.
"The Official Information Act was passed in 1982 and a lot has happened since then. Governments outsource more, spin doctors try to control information, public servants are too scared of embarrassing the Minister, and we're not taking enough advantage of digital information and the internet.
"We don't just think that the OIA needs to be fixed, we think that it needs to be significantly expanded." - Thomas Beagle, NZCCL Chairperson.
Rather than just complain about the OIA's shortcomings, we have put together a document proposing a number of significant changes. These include:
- Taking oversight away from the Ombudsman and establishing a new Open Government Commission with sufficient powers to oversee the operation of the OIA.
- Improvements to reduce delays including daily financial penalties for agencies that go over the time limit.
- Government adoption of an open contracting and tendering process.
- Reduction of political interference by limiting the ability of agencies to notify their Minister of OIA requests.
- Penalties for public servants who deliberately subvert the law by destroying, hiding, or falsifying information.
- Proactive publication of many classes of document including reports, manuals, procedures, and many more.
We hope that these proposals will spur others to submit their own ideas. We look forward to incorporating feedback and improvements.
"Everyone knows that something needs to be done, we hope that our proposal makes it plain that there are many things that can be done." - Thomas Beagle, Chairperson.
But most of all we hope that this helps the Government revisit their decision not to update the Official Information Act.
See the full text of our proposal.
NZ Council for Civil Liberties