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Ready or not? OIA compliance and practice in 2022

Peter Boshier
Issue date:

The Chief Ombudsman’s investigation into OIA practices at 12 core agencies uncovers significant gaps in the way agencies are responding to journalists, training staff and keeping records.

'Ready or not?' is a follow-up to 'Not a game of hide and seek', an investigation published by former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem in 2015.

Read the 'Not a game of Hide and Seek' report

Read all 12 reports

From the introduction

In 2015, my predecessor, Dame Beverley Wakem, carried out an investigation to:

  • examine the attitudes, policies, practices, and procedures adopted by government agencies generally, in order to establish how well they were complying with the requirements of the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA); [1]
  • identify good practices, areas of weakness or vulnerability, and practices that could give rise to non-compliance; and
  • recommend improvements where needed.

As it was not practicable to examine in detail the practices of all government agencies subject to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction, 12 government agencies were selected to investigate as being representative of central government agencies. [2] A further 75 agencies and 27 Ministers’ offices subject to the OIA were invited to provide information via a survey. The 12 agencies ultimately were provided with individual reports, and although these reports were not published, the agencies were provided with action points which, if implemented, would lead to improvements in OIA practice.

The resulting report, titled Not a game of hide and seek, was tabled in Parliament and subsequently published in December 2015. [3]

In November 2019, I decided that it was timely to revisit the 12 representative agencies involved in Not a game of hide and seek, by initiating a follow-up investigation to determine the current state of OIA practice and culture in these central government agencies.

My investigation was well underway when an unprecedented event occurred: the announcement by the World Health Organization, in March 2020, of a global pandemic. In such extraordinary circumstances, it could be tempting to dismiss the OIA as a low-priority, compliance activity—one of the first things to be set aside to free resources to focus on ‘more crucial’ demands. On the contrary, I considered that effective administration of the OIA (and its local government counterpart, the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987), [4] as well as a strong focus on the proactive release of information, is never more important than in an extreme situation. It is crucial that the information on which impactful decisions are based is available to, or can be requested by, the public so the rationale for decision making is transparent and open to scrutiny by those whom the decisions affect.

Accordingly, I identified an opportunity to expand my inquiries to include consideration of how resilient the official information policies, practices, and systems of these core government agencies were during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns.

This report therefore considers the importance of this constitutional measure being able to operate as intended in extreme and challenging circumstances, in order to protect our democracy. It also emphasises the need for strong, clear leadership and messaging by those in agencies, as well as the need for an effective independent oversight agency.

[1]    See Official Information Act 1982

[2]    The 12 government agencies selected were:

  • Accident Compensation Corporation|Te Kaporeihana Āwhina Hunga Whara
  • Department of Corrections|Ara Poutama Aotearoa
  • Ministry of Education|Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade|Manatū Aorere
  • Ministry of Health|Manatū Hauora
  • Ministry of Justice|Te Tāhū o te Ture
  • New Zealand Customs Service|Te Mana Ārai o Aotearoa
  • New Zealand Defence Force|Te Ope Kātua o Aotearoa
  • NZ Transport Agency|Waka Kotahi
  • Ministry of Social Development|Te Manatū Whakahiato Ora
  • Ministry of Transport|Te Manatū Waka
  • Public Service Commission|Te Kawa Mataaho

[3]    Beverley Wakem, Not a game of hide and seek: Report on an investigation into the practices adopted by central government agencies for the purpose of compliance with the Official Information Act 1982 (December 2015). See

[4] See Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987

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