There’s been growing concerns raised about the abuse of the Official Information Act (OIA) processes, with allegations Ministers and Government departments are wothholding information that should be made available.
In other words they are censoring infoermation, possibly ilegally or at least against the spirit of the OIA.
Vernon Small writes Public watchdogs need to bare their teeth over misuse of OIA, taxpayer events.
Let’s hope the Auditor-General, the State Services Commission or even the Ombudsman have a handy tonne of bricks.
Because something ought to be brought down hard on the officials involved in the preparation – and subsequent censoring – of information relating to various KiwiSaver HomeStart “roadshows” held around the country this year.
he offending sentence was cut from several of the documents, but left – inadvertently it seems – in one of the email trails released under the Official Information Act.
Minister Paula Bennett called it a mistake by an official (though it’s not clear whether including the comment in the first place was the mistake, or the failure to redact it from all the documents). And Parmar herself has denied attending the roadshow, held in the neighbouring electorate of Maungakiekie with MP Sam Lotu-Iiga, in order to raise her profile.
But it’s hard to see why an official in Smith’s office would put in writing Parmar’s interest – and the overtly personal and party political reason for it – unless someone had said it. If it wasn’t Parmar who indicated that, who was it?
The reasons given for the redaction elsewhere in the documents was that it was either “out of scope” or to protect “free and frank advice”.
Faafoi had asked for any correspondence sent or received by Housing NZ, ministers, MPs, and local government relating to the hosting and payments for the roadshows. And the comments about Parmar are directly related to hosting.
So neither reason stacks up.
But it doesn’t end there.
Also redacted from all but one document as “out of scope” was the advice that:
And Small says it’s an outrage:
Now, there is always a fine line between MPs (and government departments) promoting the government’s programme and what is overtly political. But the reference to Parmar’s political ambitions and the close liaison with National Party headquarters takes the whole thing well outside the bounds of acceptability.
That officials should then move to withhold that information doubles the outrage.
Tucker’s worst blunder was a conversation with Prime Minister John Key’s deputy chief of staff where they discuss a conversation with Labour’s then-leader Phil Goff about the timing of his release of information and how Goff might not use it “politically” and “call off the Annette Kings and Maryan Streets”.
Gwyn said she found it “surprising that the director thought it appropriate to discuss his conversations with the leader of the Opposition, in respect of whom he had significant responsibilities (under the NZSIS Act) with a political adviser without considering the conflict that entailed”.
This latest saga is by no means as serious, but the issues – and the threats to public service neutrality (or at least the appearance of neutrality) have not gone away.
Earth to Rennie. Come in please.
It sounds like one of our watchdogs needs to start watching more closely and baring some teeth.