Request for information about governmental lending programme
Request for information about Low Deposit Rural Lending Programme—request refused—factual information released—some information withheld to protect orderly process of government and commercial interests
A request was made by a political party researcher to the Minister of Housing for all reports prepared following a review of the Low Deposit Rural Lending Programme. The request was refused pursuant to sections 9(2)(f)(iv), 9(2)(g)(i) and 9(2)(j) of the OIA.
The Minister’s concerns with the release of the information at issue related mainly to considerations raised by section 9(2)(f)(iv). Although the policy development work with regard to the future of the programme had been completed and recommendations regarding the programme had been put to a Cabinet Committee, the Minister argued that the premature disclosure of the information at issue would be likely to prejudice the ability of the Cabinet Committee to consider the recommendations in an effective and orderly manner.
Much of the information was of a factual nature relating to the operation of the programme to date as opposed to policy advice. Although concerns had been expressed that the release of this information would prejudice the effective and orderly process of government decision-making, informed debate can enhance the process of policy development and decision making. Section 4 of the OIA identifies as one of the purposes of the legislation the progressive availability of official information to enable people to participate more effectively in the making and administration of laws and policies. That purpose can be advanced if factual information is made available in order that any subsequent debate is properly focused.
A distinction was drawn between information relating to the assessment of the performance of the Low Deposit Rural Lending programme following the review of that programme, and the advice which had been tendered regarding the future of the programme. It was concluded that the release of the information relating to the assessment of the programme’s performance would not be likely to prejudice the interests protected either by section 9(2)(f)(iv) or by any other section of the OIA.
A small amount of information could be withheld pursuant to section 9(2)(f)(iv) (as well as sections 9(2)(g)(i) and 9(2)(j)) and no countervailing public interest considerations in terms of section 9(1) were identified which would outweigh the need to withhold that information. However, the view was formed that there was no reason under the OIA to withhold the majority of the information at issue, which was of a factual nature. The Minister accepted this view and released the relevant information.
This case note is published under the authority of the Ombudsmen Rules 1989. It sets out an Ombudsman’s view on the facts of a particular case. It should not be taken as establishing any legal precedent that would bind an Ombudsman in future.