Use your right to know: Chief Ombudsman
Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says it is alarming that awareness of the Official Information Act and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act has declined for the second year in a row.
Today is International Right to Know Day, and Mr Boshier says it is more important than ever that people know how to access official information and have the confidence and the tools to do that.
“Accountability at a time when the Government needs to exert extraordinary executive power is critical,” he says.
A UMR poll commissioned by the Chief Ombudsman has found 45 per cent of respondents declared awareness of the Official Information Act (OIA) and Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA). This was down 5 percentage points on 2020 and 15 points on 2019.
“While 83 per cent of respondents said being able to access government information was very important or quite important, it is alarming that awareness of the means to do that has declined,” Mr Boshier says.
Only 67 per cent of the people polled who requested information from a central government or local government agency said they had received the information, down 1 percentage point on the year before.
Among the Ombudsman’s roles is resolving, investigating and reviewing complaints about decisions on requests for access to official information under the OIA and LGOIMA. The Ombudsman also monitors general compliance and good practice by public sector agencies in managing and responding to official information requests.
“Our collective right to know promotes greater public participation in the democratic process, and has an important role in providing checks and balances on government. The Ombudsman is a crucial cog in the engine of democracy,” Mr Boshier says.
“There have been some occasions when information hasn’t been made freely available and in a timely fashion. I have been very clear with a number of government ministers and agencies about my expectations around the provision of official information.
“At the same time, I acknowledge that requesters need to be reasonable and consider whether their requests fall within the parameters of the OIA and LGOIMA.”
As a way of increasing knowledge of the OIA and LGOIMA and how to use them effectively to access information, the Chief Ombudsman and the Media Freedom Committee have worked together to create a new tool for journalists.
“In discussions with the Media Freedom Committee, which represents major media players in New Zealand, it became apparent that some journalists have little experience of these Acts and how to use them well,” Mr Boshier says.
“This can lead to some frustration and potentially crossed wires with agencies, leading to poor outcomes for both. I hope Requesting Official Information: A Brief Guide for Media, which is available for download from my website, will be useful for agencies, journalists and all requesters of official information.”
The guide is the latest in a series available for requesters and agencies. They provide advice to make the process easier and outlines the obligations on all parties in line with legislation.