Chief Ombudsman’s statement on official information response times during COVID-19 lockdown
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier is reminding people making requests for official information, and agencies dealing with those requests, to be mindful of the need to act fairly, reasonably, and with understanding, during the latest nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.
Central and local government agencies may be working under increased pressure due to the current conditions and in an environment that is changing constantly and rapidly,” Mr Boshier says.
“I appreciate that the overwhelming majority of public sector workers are working from home and that may be a challenge for agencies when setting priorities and allocating resources. I also understand that the desire for official information may increase in times such as these.
“That’s why I’m urging agencies and requesters to be considered and reasonable when dealing with Official Information Act (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) requests."
Mr Boshier says his office is ready and able to triage complaints in a way that reflects the realities of the current situation.
“I expect that agencies will continue to keep me informed as to their circumstances so that I can adjust my approach as appropriate. I will again be taking extenuating circumstances into account when deciding how to deal with complaints about delays or extensions of the timeframes for responses to requests,” he says.
Where possible, agencies should keep the public informed about their arrangements for dealing with official information requests via their social media channels and websites.
Individual requesters should also be kept up to date about their requests, particularly if there are any unavoidable delays.
Requesters may be amenable to accepting extensions if they are provided with an understanding of the competing work pressures or staffing issues agencies are facing.
“While I understand that agencies and ministers are focused on keeping New Zealanders safe and well, they must also be in a position to respond to requests from the media and others for information about those issues as soon as possible.
“There may be a need for even greater transparency when a decision involves public health and safety or those that affect someone’s financial circumstances, housing situation, or family circumstances. I have told my staff to give these kinds of complaint priority,” Mr Boshier says.
For further advice on making requests, please refer to the Making official information requests: A guide for requesters.
For more information about the various mechanisms available to agencies to help manage requests under the OIA and LGOIMA, please refer to our guidance:
- FAQs about official information requests during COVID-19
- The OIA for Ministers and agencies
- The LGOIMA for local government agencies.
You can contact the Ombudsman NZ for advice by emailing [email protected].
Media queries can be emailed to [email protected].