Request for information about members of boards for which Minister of Maori Affairs responsible
Request for information about members of boards for which Minister of Maori Affairs responsible—information withheld under s 9(2)(a)—some information already publicly available—a strong privacy interest did not attach to names and terms of appointment of board members of Maori Trust Boards and the Maori Soldiers Trust Central Committee—public interest in release
A political party researcher asked the Minister of Maori Affairs for information about each of the current members of boards in respect of which the Minister had responsibility for appointing members. The specific information requested was the name, the dates of first appointment, reappointment(s) and expiry of term, the occupation, the names of other companies or organisations by which the member was employed, and the names of other boards of which the member was also a member. The Minister refused the request, relying on section 9(2)(a) of the OIA for his decision.
Twenty four boards were identified as falling within the scope of the request—the Waitangi Tribunal, the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, the Maori Language Commission, the Maori Soldiers Trust Central Committee, and twenty Maori Trust Boards. However, it became apparent that the Minister did not hold all the information requested. He only held details of the names of the members and their dates of appointment and expiry of term of office. Accordingly, with the exception of the Maori Language Commission, the Minister could rely on section 18(g) of the OIA to refuse the balance of the information requested on the basis that he did not hold it and did not believe that it was held by any other Minister, department, organisation or local authority.
The Maori Language Commission is itself subject to the OIA. Accordingly, in terms of section 14 of the Act, the request for information about its members should have been transferred to it for reply. However, as the Minister had taken responsibility for responding to the request, he was asked to consult the Commission to find out whether it held any further information relevant to the request.
It was noted that the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission and the Maori Language Commission had already published the names of their members in annual reports to the House of Representatives, and the Waitangi Tribunal had produced a publication naming its members. As a consequence, some of the information requested was already publicly available.
After further consideration the Minister agreed to release the names and terms of appointment of members of the Waitangi Tribunal, the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission and the Maori Language Commission, together with some further relevant information which the Maori Language Commission asked the Minister to make available to the requester.
With respect to the information held by the Minister about Maori Trust Boards and the Maori Soldiers Trust Central Committee, he consulted with them about any privacy concerns their members might have about disclosure of their names and terms of appointment. Those who responded to the Minister’s inquiries were of the view that the information was private. One of the boards commented that ‘Trust Board members gave their time voluntarily and they felt the request was an invasion of their individual privacy right’. Another board commented that the Minister’s role was minimal. Its members were elected by the iwi not the Minister, although the Minister was involved in the process of putting the names to the Governor General for final approval. It also referred to proposed amendments to the Maori Trust Boards Act which would result in a further lessening of the Minister’s role.
The statutory structure of the Maori Trust Boards and the Maori Soldiers Trust Central Committee, the procedures for appointment and removal from office of members, and other public oversight mechanisms were considered. It appeared that although the information at issue related to individual persons, a strong privacy interest did not appear to attach to the names and terms of appointment of board members. On the other hand, there did appear to be a valid public interest in release of the information. Although members may provide their services voluntarily, there was clearly government oversight of the activities of the boards. Release of the names would be consistent with one of the purposes of the OIA by providing the opportunity for members of the public to participate more effectively in the administration of laws by advising either the Minister or the Governor General of any concerns about the ability of the members to perform their functions.
On the basis of the foregoing considerations, and after consultation with the Privacy Commissioner, the view was formed that even if it could be argued that there was a privacy interest attaching to the names and terms of appointment of board members sufficient to make it necessary to withhold the information to protect the privacy of natural persons, that interest was outweighed in terms of section 9(1) of the OIA by other public interest considerations which rendered it desirable to make the information available.
After considering that view, the Minister agreed to release the names and terms of appointment of the members of the Maori Trust Boards and the Maori Soldiers Trust Central Committee.
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.