Annual Report 2020/2021
The global COVID-19 pandemic has continued to dominate our lives in the past year, creating new challenges for us all. My work was no exception with new issues, complaint types, and places of inspection emerging, creating large volumes of work and a need to be flexible and innovative. I am proud to say that my staff have risen to meet these challenges with creativity, agility, and good humour.
The number of complaints that I considered during the year was frankly astonishing. I received 24 percent more complaints than in 2019/20. This is the highest volume of complaints in Aotearoa New Zealand Ombudsman history, 4 percent higher than the number received after the Canterbury earthquakes. The rise in complaints and other contacts can largely be attributed to issues arising from the ongoing government response to the pandemic. New ways of managing incoming complaints has enabled me to maintain high quality standards despite the unprecedented numbers, while achieving more than double the remedies on concerns about government actions and decision-making raised under the Ombudsmen Act as compared to last year. The lessons we have learned will be of immense value for managing major events in future.
The channels through which public participation and professional engagement occurs are changing. I have, therefore, adapted many of my communication and operational methods to maintain a relevant impact and public presence. My aim is to bring attention to the role of the Ombudsman and the important part in the democratic institution of a fair and just society. I established an internship programme in partnership with Kiingitanga which aims to raise awareness of my work among rangatahi and provide work experience for Māori university students. With the support of and advice from Pūhara Mana Tangata, a panel of senior and rangatahi leaders, and a Disability Advisory Panel, made up of people with lived experience of disability, I will continue to work to ensure that the voices of all New Zealanders are embedded in my work.
I am pleased to have been able, despite COVID-19 restrictions, to continue my engagement with colleagues in the Asia-Pacific to promote good governance, integrity, and anti-corruption. As president of the Asia-Pacific Ombudsman Region (APOR) of the International Ombudsman Institute, I leveraged the increased skill and capability in virtual communication tools to facilitate the first ever virtual APOR conference, with record high attendance.
Furthermore, my crucial role under the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) was especially relevant in the current COVID-19 environment. The managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities, generally re-purposed hotels, continue to be an integral part of the system for keeping Aotearoa New Zealand COVID-free. My MIQ inspection programme gives the public and Parliament assurance that returnees’ rights are respected and protected. During the course of the year, I also continued to visit privately run secure aged care facilities. This was the second year of a three-year programme to set up OPCAT inspections of such units and these visits have helped inform my inspection expectations and methodology. Inspections of privately run aged care facilities will begin next year, as planned.
In what has been an extraordinarily busy year, I was not deterred from completing large scale systemic investigations. As well as completing eight investigations into official information practices, I conducted and published reports on two self-initiated investigations into:
- Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children, He Take Kōhukihuki / A Matter of Urgency, which looked at policies, procedures, and practices relating to the removal of newborn pēpi; and
- the Ministry of Health related to its oversight of hospital-level secure services for people with intellectual disabilities.
The awareness of the Ombudsman continues to grow and my mahi increases. This is a sign of the healthy democracy that we enjoy in New Zealand. I look forward to the next year and the challenges that it will no doubt bring.