Human error, lack of robust processes leading to delays in responding to OIA requests by Minister for Māori Development
In the second half of 2022, the Chief Ombudsman dealt with three separate complaints concerning delays by the Minister for Māori Development in responding to requests for official information under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).
All three complaints involved the Minister’s failure to respond to the requester within the maximum statutory timeframe and, in two cases, the Minister failed to respond to requests from the Ombudsman for an explanation for the delays.
The Minister told the Ombudsman that the reasons for the delays and lack of correspondence were due to ‘human error’, resulting from a failure to follow internal OIA processes. The Minister’s office advised that all OIA responses have since been moved to a digital platform that enabled tracking to prevent recurrences of this type of issue.
In relation to all three complaints, the Ombudsman formed the final opinion that the Minister failed to meet the relevant timeliness obligations under the OIA. The Minister failed to make and communicate a decision on the requests as soon as reasonably practicable and no later than 20 working days after the requests were received. The failure to meet these statutory obligations was contrary to law. In two cases the Ombudsman made recommendations to the Minister. The Ombudsman also expressed concern over the Minister’s office’s lack of robust internal OIA processes.
The Ombudsman wrote directly to the Minister, expressing concern that there had been a trend of human error causing delays in responding to OIA requests in the Minister’s office. He also noted that there had been a consistent lack of responses to correspondence from the Ombudsman’s office and that the lack of compliance with the statutory criteria in all three cases was ‘unacceptable’.