Disgraceful Key admission on OIA delays

John Key has admitted delaying the release of official information as long as possible if the Government thinks it’s in it’s interests to do so. This is very disappointing.

Radio New Zealand reports PM admits using delaying tactics.

Prime Minister John Key has admitted the Government sometimes delays releasing official information right up to the deadline if it is in its best interest to do so.

Legally, it must respond to requests as soon as reasonably possible.

…ministers and government departments must respond to a request as soon as reasonably possible and no later than 20 working days.

The principal of deliberate delays is bad enough, that it is flaunting clear legal and moral requirements is disgraceful.

Mr Key has always maintained that when it comes to requests for official information, his ministers act within the law.

But he has now revealed a strategy which appears at odds with that.

“Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that,” he said.

It appears to be much worse than delaying releases up to 20 working days.

Mr Key’s admission comes just days after the release of official advice on child poverty which Radio New Zealand requested 17 months ago.

That sort of delay is a huge concern. The public deserves much better than this from Government (and from Key and National).

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem said they were not allowed to delay right up to that 20-day deadline for political purposes.

“It’s pretty clear. It couldn’t be much clearer than that… As soon as you have made a decision as to whether you’re going to respond to the request or how you’re going to respond to it, you ought to convey that.”

However, there are no sanctions for deliberately delaying the release of official information.

There shouldn’t need to be sanctions, the public should be able to expect that Government will comply with the law – and be willingly open and transparent.

She stressed she had not heard of ministers delaying responses within the 20-day timeframe but said it would be hard to prove.

“That’s the sort of thing that I expect we’ll pick up as we consult. And we’ll be consulting widely, including media, so that we can identify any blatant or egregious attempts to dodge responsibility, but… I’m not aware of any of that sort of thing going on at all.”

Dame Beverley said her review would not be a witch hunt but would look into agencies’ practices and highlight any misinterpretations or difficulties.

Highlighting “misinterpretations or difficulties” might be worthwhile.

But it’s not good enough. The public deserves better.

I think we should get a genuine assurance from John Key that his Government will fully and willingly comply with the clear intent of the Official Information Act.

If he doesn’t assure us – and demonstrate that he’s serious in practice – then this third term Government will be burdened by suspicions of being cynical, manipulative and abusive of laws that are there to promote the public good.

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