Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act – claims emails “not found” – and it gets worse!

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As first revealed on 1 December (Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act), Minister Hekia Parata’s office has apparently deliberately broken the law by ignoring requests for information lodged under the Official Information Act.

Intro

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The story begins several months ago when this blogger wrote to the Minister’s office on  27 October last year,  requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

By 12 November, after no response nor even an acknowledgement, this blogger wrote again to Minister Parata;

On 27 October, I lodged this OIA request with your office. I have recieved no reply or even an acknowledgement.

Please advice whether or not you intend to respond to my OIA request. If not, I will proceed by laying a complaint with the Ombudsman’s Office.

As at 29 November, no response had been forthcoming from the Minister’s office, and a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman’s Office. As this blogger pointer out in the complaint;

I do not believe it is satisfactory that a Minister of the Crown wilfully ignores the law and fails to follow her obligations under the Official Information Act.

Up-date

On 10 December, a response was received from the Ombudsman’s office stating;

“We have made enquiries with the Minister’s Office about this matter and it appears that they did not receive your request. They have conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November.”

The Ombudsman’s letter went on to that that “the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development” and suggested that I “may wish to put [my] request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz“.

I wrote back the following day to the Ombudsman, providing specific information of the email addresses used to lodged my OIA request with Parata’s office;

“I am in receipt of your letter dated 10 December where you state that the Education Minister’s office claims “that they did not receive [my] request”. (Emails dated 27 October and 12 November)

I am cutting and pasting the header of both emails into this email;

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 12:57 AM
subject:KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com

from:Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:Hekia Parata <hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz>
date:Thu, Nov 12, 2015 at 10:45 PM
subject:Fwd: KickStart breakfast in schools
mailed-by:gmail.com”

I pointed out;

“If the Minister’s email address is incorrect, my emails did not “bounce” back to me.”

I invited the Ombudsman’s office “to test the email address – (hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz)  to ascertain it’s validity”.

The response from the Ombudsman’s Office, on 15 December, was less than inspiring;

“I note you emailed your original request for information to the following address: hekia.parata@parliament.govt.nz. The Minister of Education’s Office has confirmed that this email address is correct. However, as Mr Ilott explained in his letter of 10 December 2015, the Minister’s Office conducted an extensive internal search but was unable to locate your emails.

This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred.”

The Ombudsman’s response does not reassure this blogger that his Office is capable of holding Ministers to account to uphold the letter and spirit of the Official Information Act.

Specifically;

(A) “Losing” one email sent to a legitimate, active, email address is possible. An accidental deletion is not outside the realms of possibility.

But “losing” two emails seems unlikely and does not withstand the credibility “sniff” test.

(B) The Ombudsman stated that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search and have been unable to locate your emails of 27 October or 12 November“.

How has the Ombudsman  arrived at the conclusion that Minister Parata’s Office “conducted an extensive internal search“?

It almost seems as if the Ombudsman has become an (unwitting?) apologist for Parata obvious willful refusal to answer a legitimate OIA request.

(C) Having established  Minister Parata “alibi” that they could not “locate” my emails,  why was her Office not advised to write to me directly to request copies of my emails?

In what manner is it the responsibility of the Ombudsman to act as a “go between” between a Minister and a Citizen to advise me to write to Minister Tolley’s Office?

Is Minister Parata refusing point-blank to deal with me solely because of past criticisms of her actions? (See ‘Previous related blogposts’ below)

The Ombudsman’s Report bears out this suspicion when she refers to “different and more risk averse treatment of requests by the media and interest groups” (p142).

(D)  In stating that “This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – it beggars belief  that the Ombudman’s Office appears to be abdicating any responsibility to hold a Minister of the Crown to account for what appears to be a breach of the Official Information Act.

If the Ombudsman’s role does not include “the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred” – then what is the raison d’être for that Office?

This situation is simply not acceptable. The Minister’s Office has broken the law; offered an implausible excuse; and has drawn the Ombudsman into their sphere of chicanery. The Ombudsman appears to have naively permitted itself to be used as a puppet in this instance.

According to a 2013 dossier compiled by Labour, Parata’s record to responding to OIA requests is poor;

“Along with uncertainty whether the log is 100% accurate, it is also evident that she regularly responds to requests late with only just over half the total number of responses sent within the 20 day statutory period. “

Status of OIA Request

Following on from the suggestion from the Ombudsman’s office (10 December), I duly wrote to Minister Tolley the following day and put the same ten questions to her that I initially sent to Minister Parata.

That letter was acknowledged the same day (11 December) at 9.50AM.

At 11.36AM (11 December) I received a subsequent email from Minister Tolley’s office stating that my OIA “request has been transferred to Brendan Boyle, Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development in line with section 14 (b)(ii) of the Act“.

Since then – nothing.

A month and a half  passed. On 21 January I wrote back to Minister Tolley’s office, who subsequently contacted the Ministry of Social Development. The following day, I recieved this unsigned, anonymous response from the Ministry;

With regard to your Official information Act request, it was transferred to the Ministry of Social Development on 11 December 2015. While it has not been our standard practice to acknowledge transferred requests (as the transfer letter is effectively an acknowledgement), we realise it would have been helpful if we had brought to your attention at the time the fact that the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 (http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz). Due to this holiday period, your response is due on 1 February 2016. We apologise for not informing you of this at the time that your request was transferred to us.

Somewhat bizarrely, when the anonymous author from MSD stated that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “, s/he then posted a link – not to the OIA legislation referred to – but to the Ombudsman’s Office.

When this blogger checked  “Section” 2 (actually, Part 2) of the Official Information Act 1982,  no reference was found to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury [sic] 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982 “.

The Act simply refers to twenty working days, which, from December 14 (the next working-day following my OIA lodgement) extends to 13 January.

Accordingly, I wrote back to the Ministry (22 January);

I am in receipt of your email to me, dated 22 January 2016, whereby you claim that “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016 do not count as ‘working days’ as defined in section 2 of the Official Information Act 1982”.

I have checked Part 2 of the Act and can find no reference to “the days between 24 December 2015 and 15 Janaury 2016”. Please feel free to enlighten me as to where that proviso exists within the legislation.

By my calculation, twenty working days extends from 14 December to 13 January 2016, inclusive.

If you do not intend to abide by the statute, please advise me and I will lay a complaint with the Ombudsman’s office.

I will keep readers of this blog appraised of this on-going situation.

The shenanigans being played out by Ministers, ministeries, and sundry government departments and other state bodies makes a joke out of the Official Information Act.

National obviously has little regard for the law when it is inconvenienced. Which is ironic, considering right-wing political parties portray themselves as champions of Law and Order.

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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John Key admits to his government flouting the law

Whether by an unintended slip, or by some machiavellian plan, on 16 October 2014, our esteemed Dear Leader admitted that his government abused the Official Information Act for purely political self-interest;

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"Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that's in our best interest to do that."
“Sometimes we wait the 20 days because, in the end, Government might take the view that’s in our best interest to do that.”

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This disturbingly candid admission of the contempt held by National to the Act provoked condemnation from the Ombudsman, who a day later on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, called it “cavalier and a disregard for the law“.

Even National’s allies within the  right-wing blogosphere at  Your NZ, Whaleoil, and  Kiwiblog were taken aback by Key’s dismissive hubris toward the Act.

Wakem said she would be ” having words with a few people, I suspect” – including Key.

Previous Criticisms of the Ombudsman

On 8 December 2015, the Ombudsman – Dame Beverley Wakem –  released a reporton an investigation into  the practices adopted by central government agencies for the  purpose of compliance with the  Official Information Act 1982“.

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eight_col_oiacomp

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In the Report’s conclusion, the Ombudsman stated;

“I commenced this investigation because of what I perceived to be growing concern
and criticism that government agencies were not complying with the requirements
of the OIA, nor acting in accordance with its principle and purposes when making
decisions about the accessibility of official information they held. Following a
comprehensive examination of how agencies have organised and resourced
themselves and currently operate in practice, I am satisfied that the OIA itself is
fundamentally sound, but it is not always working in practice.

On the positive side of the ledger, agencies are compliant with the OIA most of the
time and most government officials working within these agencies have a genuine
desire to ensure that they are compliant.” – p140

However, the report’s Conclusions also drew attention to Ministerial interference in responding to OIA requests;

“Where I have found that agencies are vulnerable to non-compliance with the OIA,
I have not found evidence of deliberate obstruction but rather the unintended
consequences of various attempts to:

[…]

try to meet the expectations of two masters ie, the public under the OIA and
the Minister under the ‘no surprises’ principle;

[…]

well-meaning practices that invite opportunities for ministerial/political
advisors to influence more than they ought to and sometimes on matters
where they have no legitimate place” – p141/142

The Ombudsman’s Conclusions then veered off onto a tanjeant shifting fault to the public, bloggers, and media. A  subsequent Dominion Post editorial was scathing;

What a shame, then, that retiring Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem is leaving office amid a cloud of justified controversy. Her recent remarks make her look less like a champion of freedom than a friend of the powerful.

It is truly extraordinary to hear her scolding journalists as “rottweilers on heat” and warning them not to annoy “innately conservative” officials who might then become “gun-shy”. These statements are what you would expect from a bad-tempered bureaucrat, not an ombudsman. 

It is not for the Chief Obudsman to tell anyone to be polite and humble when asking for information. It is most certainly not for her to suggest that officials can obstruct information – because that is all that being “gun-shy” can mean here – when they are irritated.

The Official Information Act requires the government to provide information unless there is good reason not to. The reasons for refusal are laid out in statute. The law must determine when the gate is open and when it is shut, not the manners of the applicant or the mood of the gatekeeper.

If Wakem had made these statements when first appointed, they would be good grounds for seeking her resignation. They show a fundamental misunderstanding of her role and an establishment mentality.

The Ombudsman also complained of a lack of public and media submissions to her Inquiry;

“I note that the public were less forthcoming in responding to the surveys, and I was
unable to determine precisely why that was. It could be interpreted many ways –
from a loss of confidence in the OIA and the work of my Office, to a demonstration
that a significant proportion of the public believed with so much official information
now being made available on a regular basis, the OIA was working for them…” – p143

Which is an astounding suggestion to make, considering that  for the 2013/14 financial year,  the number of complaints to the Ombudsman was the third-highest ever. The Ombudsman could easily have based it’s report – even partially – using information gleaned from complaints of  non-compliance and tardiness from Ministers and Ministries.

This blogger suggests that the a lack of public submissions could well be attributed to a perception that the Ombudsman’s office is powerless in the face of a government that has been unrelentingly secretive and autocratic.

Indeed, recall that in their 10 December statement to me, the  Ombudsman’s office suggested;

 “…the Minister’s Office advised that the information you are seeking is likely to be held by the Minister for Social Development. Accordingly you may wish to put your request to the Minister for Social Development, Hon Anne Tolley, directly by emailing: a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz”.

It is simply not the role of the Ombudsman’s Office to be adopting a “helpful” position for a government minister.

Otherwise, the perception – whether rightly or wrongly – is that the Office of the Ombudsman has been captured by ministers and agencies of this government.

As NZ Herald reporter, David Fisher, said on 15 October 2014;

“In the 25 years I have worked as a journalist, there have never been so many questions, or such a loss of faith, all at once.”

Dark Clouds Looming

Up to now, the two weapons-of-choice employed by National Ministers and our Esteemed Dear Leader has been Delay and Defer. For many journalists and bloggers, waiting  long periods for a response is not uncommon. By then, news stories have become ‘stale’ and public interest has moved on.

Recently, a new  weapon in government and bureaucratic armoury has been unveiled; charging for OIA requests.

On 18 January, the Dominion Post published an editorial describing how the Reserve Bank had begun to demand compensation for information;

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Editorial A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

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The editorial said, in part;

The Reserve Bank has started a very bad trend by deciding to charge for most Official Information Act responses. The bank says it made this decision last October, but the world only learned of it last week, when the bank invoiced a Fairfax reporter. This is not the right way to make or reveal such a momentous decision.

The bank’s move is in important ways an undemocratic act. The Act makes information available as of right to the country’s citizens; it reverses the previous legal assumption that the government’s information is secret. Information is power, and the act provides power to all.

Charging for researching and providing that information puts a barrier in the way and is an obstacle to the exercise of what is now a vital democratic right. No doubt the bank will point out that the act allows for some charging for costs. But the bank’s policy will institutionalise what has until now been a patchy thing.

This means that ordinary citizens could now face a hefty fee for information. The invoice sent to Fairfax business reporter Richard Meadows was for an estimated $651. A fee of that size would be a serious obstacle for an individual. If OIA requests routinely cost this much it would also be a problem even for large media outlets.

In the Ombudsman’s 2015 report,  “Not A Game Of Hide And Seek“, Wakem quoted an earlier  Law Commission Report from 2012, which stated;

“…access to official information is an important tool for opposition parties to be
able to scrutinise government policy, and that parliamentary research units should
not usually be charged for reasonable requests. However, there is no reason why
unreasonable political requests should be completely exempt. Voluminous and
unrefined requests from parliamentary research units can cause a great deal of
expenditure of resources. The charging mechanism should be available to agencies
as a defence mechanism in appropriate cases, regardless of the source of the request.
The public interest waiver should provide the flexibility for appropriate charging of
MPs and incentivise these requesters to ensure that requests have a sufficient public
interest basis in order to qualify for a waiver of charges.” – p96

Wakem agreed, saying;

“I agree with this approach and believe it should apply to all types of requesters.
The OIA does not provide for an outright exemption based on the identity of a requester
or their role in its charging provisions. Nor did I find many members of the media
who believed they ought to be exempt from charging, although some worked for
organisations that had a policy not to accept any charge for the provision of official
information. “

The Law Commission and Ombudsman’s Office ignore the cold hard political reality that politicians and and their bureaucratic minions will not recognise “niceties” of what constitutes “a sufficient public interest basis”.

To be be blunt; if politicians can get away with it – expect them to do it.

The Reserve Bank’s policy of charging for OIA requests is a thin-end of a wedge. It is a test to see if they can get away with it. Other government agencies, Ministries, and Minister’s will follow with predictable succession.

Only expensive legal action could over-turn a charging policy – and few individuals and organisations have pockets deep enough to take on the State.

In a pathetic defense of his organisation, Reserve Bank deputy governor, Geoff Bascand, said;

The Reserve Bank has established a policy on when it will charge for responses to Official Information Act (OIA) requests that has drawn the ire of some critics.

Far from it being an obstacle in the path of freedom that The Dominion Post editorial claimed (January 18), the policy is a common, fair and reasonable response to a marked growth of OIA requests.

I’d like to explain our rationale, and what the policy means for requesters – most of whom will likely not be charged.

Our approach is consistent with the Official Information Act and meets the bank’s commitment to transparency.

Garbage. This is a naked attempt by the RBNZ to stifle transparency, not promote it. Any assertion to the contrary is a ridiculous attempt at ‘spin’ from a not-very-clever spin-doctor working for the Bank.

The irony is that the RBNZ is attempting to charge for information that rightly belongs to us, the tax-payer. That information was gathered  using taxpayer-funded resources and by taxpayer-funded public servants.

It is not private information – it belongs to us, the taxpayer.

Politicians, bureaucrats,  the Ombudsman’s Office, and Mr Bascand, would do well to reflect on this salient fact.

Conclusion

This blogger will vigorously pursue the OIA lodgedment with  Minister Parata; who passed it on to Minister Tolley; who passed it on to the Ministry for Social Development, requesting answers to the following questions regarding National’s Food in Schools programme;

1. How much has been spent on the programme since 28 May 2013?

2. Is the funding still set at $9.5 million, over a 5 year period from 2013 to 2018?

3. How many schools are part of the programme?

4. It was initially available in decile 1 to decile 4 schools. Higher decile schools would be able to opt in from 2014. How many other, higher decile schools have opted into the programme?

5. Are there any figures as to how many children are participating in the programme? If so, what is that data?

6. Is there a time limit as to the length of time a school can participate in the programme?

7. Have any schools been declined participation in the programme? How many? For what reason?

8. Are Sanitarium and dairy cooperative Fonterra still participating in the programme? Have any other companies joined in?

9. Does the KickStart programme in any way affect a schools allocated budget?

10. Have any Charter Schools requested to join the programme? If so, how does this affect their funding?

More than ever, I am curious what the answer(s) will be.

And I do not intend paying a cent for it.

From Radio NZ’s Mediawatch

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Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling - Radio NZ - mediawatch(Alt.link)

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“Information is the currency of democracy and my Office will play its part in ensuring the OIA is not devalued.”

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References

Red Alert: The right to know – Hekia Parata

Parliament: Official Information Act 1982

Radio NZ: PM admits Govt uses delaying tactics

TV3 The Nation: Transcript – Beverley Wakem

YourNZ: Disgraceful Key admission on OIA delays

Whaleoil: Key and PM Office told to stop farting around with OIA requests

Kiwiblog: Chief Ombudsman to review OIA compliance

Ombudsman:  OIA Report Not A Game Of Hide And Seek

Dominion Post: Editorial – Chief Ombudsman shows how not to be an information watchdog

Radio NZ: PM’s admission concerns Ombudsman

NZ Herald: David Fisher – OIA a bizarre arms race

Dominion Post: Editorial – A tax on official information is a tax on democracy itself

Dominion Post: Reserve Bank – Charging for official information a ‘reasonable’ response

Additional

Radio NZ: The watchdog and the rottweilers

Radio NZ: Mediawatch – Information watchdog’s probe into political meddling (alt. link)

Other bloggers

The Jackal: Back to school for Hekia Parata

The Jackal: various

The Daily Blog: Hekia speaks with forked tongue

No Right Turn: An attack on our democracy

Previous related blogposts

Parata, Bennett, and Collins – what have they been up to?

Karma for Key?

Hekia Parata breaks law – ignores Official Information Act

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Good work again frank ………. This is the most corrupt Govt we have ever seen and people like you, NoRightTurn and others are doing us a great service by trying to keep the bastards honest.

    My only advice for you is not to engage with tr0lls like Gosman or AndrewO etc.

    Their mission is to waste your time and divert you from the excellent work you do.

    You bear witness and present the reality of their dishonest actions …….versus the Nats dishonest spin and attack politics.

    I think people like you can take some of the credit for over three quarters of New Zealanders now seeing Key as dishonest.

    Keep up the fine work and don’t let the horrible nat Tr0lls distract you from it…….

    They hate you for your love true of democracy 🙂

    • Reason, thank you for your generous words. Let’s hope that shining the spotlight on Ministers’ and ministry’s actions will change some of the worst aspects of their behaviour.

      One incident of mis-use of the OIA would go un-noticed by 99% of the population. But over time, as incidents build up, and stories enter the public psyche, National will slowly build a reputation for itself as being a shady operator.

      This was already a suspicion in the public’s mind as far back as November 2011;

      Prime Minister John Key is considered a safe pair of hands in a crisis, but more voters believe he is more likely to lie than Labour leader Phil Goff.

      The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll asked voters what sort of people they thought the National and Labour leaders were. It found 34.9 per cent believed Mr Key was most likely to bend the truth, while 26 per cent thought Mr Goff was.

      Ref: http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/election-2011/5939226/John-Key-Safe-hands-forked-tongue?

      As for Gosman – I find him useful. He asks gormless questions which reflects more on him than the issue he attempts to subvert. But I take your point about time-wasting. Hence why I removed myself from two other on-line Fora – too much time wasted on pointless debate with people who had zero interest in assessing facts.

      • Lie is right. Brownly said he would release the defence white or was it the air mobility study, or both papers last year. Still hasn’t.

        Goose is so up for a serve

    • One troll has just gone over all the comments and down voted most, as per usual fashion. The Nats and perhaps also ACT seem to have such willing mercenaries spend their days going over all the progressive and government critical blogs, to do their dirty deeds, trying to “discredit” us.

      More proof of a corrupt kind of system.

  2. Thank you Frank for informing us of the continuing deceitful, evasive behaviour from politicians and public servants contaminating our halls of power.

    Seems Parata, Tolley, their staff and to some extent Wakem, take their lead from the top. Follow the leader FJK, lie, cheat, deny and cover up. Slip and slide around the truth and all will be well in the land of Nod!

    One question Frank. How is it you still remain reasonably sane after being confronted by all this BS?

    Although a NZ citizen through naturalization, I had similar issues some years back dealing with public servants and policy, concerning my place of birth and the effect it had on me renewing my clean 36 year old driver’s licence! The BS I was confronted with was unbelievable, as well as extremely stressful. I got through it, but it did take its toll on me for a while, as I had done nothing wrong and felt I was being treated very badly, for something which is/was beyond my control! My only fault being I happened to be born at sea, which according to some jumped up little smart arse public servants wasn’t a recognized place of birth!

    Good luck Frank. All the best in your endeavours to get some open honest responses to your requests. Just don’t expect miracles though!

    • Thank you, Mary. 🙂

      As for “How is it you still remain reasonably sane after being confronted by all this BS?”

      A good sense of humour is a prime requisite.

      It will be interesting what information I eventually get to my questions. But if MSD tries to fudge answers, that, in itself will be a story. And an indication that they are hiding something.

  3. My comments will be moderate.

    The Minister and/or her officials are lying scumbags.

    The Minister and her Ministry are in the business of leading our education system, seeing that our young people particularly have models of leadership that as well as being impeccable are inspirational.

    Hekia Parata and her mob continue to show that they are amoral and immoral and have no right to be leading our children. The corollary of course is that they have no right to expect moral behaviour from teachers and those running our educational institutions.

  4. Allowing for stat hols and ‘let’s not come to work on that day’ you ought to have received either a full reply or an interim by last Friday or Saturday.

    Please remember – mail is now only delivered every second day (which may or may not include Saturdays).

    An email, however, ought to have met the deadline precisely.

    I wonder if you’re allowed to turn up to collect? Or would you be escorted to the door by security?

  5. Quoted from the Ombudsman’s response to Frank:
    “This Office has no reason to doubt either party’s account of what has happened. In situations like this where a dispute of facts exist, it is generally not the function of an Ombudsman to determine which version of events is the one that should be preferred.””

    And I have come across that explanation before that the days between 24 December and 15 January do not count as “working days”, which is covered by some law, which I do not remember right now.

    So you are also coming across problems that friends and I have come across, dear Frank. Indeed the Ombudsman comes with some truly “bizarre” decisions at times, and I share your concern, that in at least a fair few cases, it seems as if the Ombudsmen are not fulfilling their functions under the Ombudsmen Act 1975.

    The following is another bizarre OIA case, where MSD’s Principal Health Advisor was later said to have deleted all his emails and contacts, as some of them had been “personal”. Strangely these covered correspondence with some controversial “experts” that had been consulted on welfare reforms:

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/msd-o-i-a-rqst-re-dr-bratt-presentations-contacts-anon-ltr-w-questions-16-01-14.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/msd-o-i-a-rqst-re-dr-bratt-presentations-contacts-anon-16-01-reply-by-ce-27-02-14.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/msd-o-i-a-rqst-re-dr-bratt-presentations-contacts-anon-16-01-further-reply-12-11-14.pdf

    The Ombudsman was asked to address remaining issues:
    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-o-i-a-to-msd-public-interest-re-dr-bratt-anon-xx-03-2014.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-msd-o-i-a-rqst-16-01-14-dr-bratt-presentation-info-ltr-xx-12-14.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-o-i-a-to-msd-dr-bratt-publ-int-prov-dec-compl-hilit-22-05-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-3xxxxx-msd-o-i-a-fr-16-01-14-bratt-presentations-anon-ltr-13-06-15.pdf

    https://nzsocialjusticeblog2013.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/ombudsman-complaint-msd-o-i-a-rqst-16-01-14-dr-bratt-presentation-info-hilit-dec-23-06-15.pdf

    But in the end the Ombudsman did not do much at all to hold MSD to account, which has resulted in an Ombudsman complaint Mr Ron Paterson did not want to investigate (that was months ago). It is still under review, we have heard, but I would not expect much action from their Office, given past disappointing decisions I have been entrusted with.

    So losing or deleting emails with bizarre stated reasons or explanations seems to be quite acceptable, and the Ombudsman chooses to stay out of all this.

    Indeed it makes a mockery of the system, does it not?

    This post shows how there are ongoing problems with getting proper responses to OIA requests, that are specific and ask for clear enough information. Some is usually offered, albeit late, but often the more sensitive and interesting data does seem to get withheld, which forces people to complain to the Ombudsman, and there we get exactly the kind of stuff that Frank is here writing about.

  6. “This blogger suggests that the a lack of public submissions could well be attributed to a perception that the Ombudsman’s office is powerless in the face of a government that has been unrelentingly secretive and autocratic.”

    Well it raises very good questions about the sincerity of our past Chief Ombudsman and her team, as the survey that was conducted was only really publicly announced on the website of the Ombudsmen, and not widely shared, apart from commenters on some blog and otherwise few websites. Most people will not even have heard about the survey, as no media seemed to spread the message, possibly not in the know themselves.

    Here is one website where some info seems to have been published:
    https://nzfvc.org.nz/news/consultation-open-official-information-act-ombudsman
    “Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem is seeking public feedback on the use of the Official Information Act (OIA) as part of a review into public sector OIA practices. Consultation closes on Thursday 5 November 2015.

    Launched on 23 October 2015, three online surveys aim to gather user experiences and perceptions of how the OIA is working in practice.”

    So it was launched on 23 October and people (those aware of it) had only barely two weeks to respond!

    Here the official notice on the Ombudsmen’s website:
    http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/newsroom/item/review-of-oia-practices-surveys-of-requesters-and-government-workers

    The main focus of her review was on the actual agencies that the Ombudsman reviewed (who will have been mindful with answering to questions, so as to not harm their own reputation), and on staff that work for these agencies, involved in answering OIA requests.

    http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/home/survey-3-end

    Two thirds of the three surveys were done with a focus on the very agencies that OIA requesters have so often complained about, only one third of the survey was covering the requesters of OIA info.

    Only marginally were requesters of information invited and allowed input. The survey was not at all widely notified, so few took note and few participated.

    No wonder then, but that is not due the lack of interest among the reqesters of information, it is the Ombudsman herself, Dame Beverley, who did not do her job. That is my view, of course, I leave it up to others to judge.

    Former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley, and her Deputy and other Ombudsmen seem to live in ivory towers somewhere on “Cloud Nine” or further up, where they are out of touch with the rest of us mortals, I fear.

    Show me where media announced the survey, please, surprise me with news I cannot find anywhere!

  7. You may need to re check your contention re the calculation of days over the Christmas break. Section 2 – Interpretation – clearly states:

    working day means any day of the week other than—
    (a)

    Saturday, Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Labour Day, the Sovereign’s birthday, and Waitangi Day; and
    (ab)

    if Waitangi Day or Anzac Day falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, the following Monday; and
    (b)

    a day in the period commencing with 25 December in any year and ending with 15 January in the following year.

    See http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1982/0156/latest/DLM64790.html

  8. Great, keep up the good work. The “new” Chief Ombudsman, Professor Patterson is very adept at keeping secrets. He is as bad, if not worse, than Wakem.

    • “The “new” Chief Ombudsman, Professor Patterson is very adept at keeping secrets. He is as bad, if not worse, than Wakem. ”

      I fear you are not wrong there, Ann!

      It brings to mind the so-called “old boys network”, which of course also includes the “old girls network”.

      While I don’t wish to speculate, the apparent lack of commitment to their functions and responsibilities, and to the spirit of the law they are meant to apply, raises serious questions about our ‘Officers of Parliament’.

      It is not a good look at all.

  9. For those that may be interested, also the Health and Disability Commissioner, same as an increasing number of other public offices, now no longer put names at the bottom of standard first response emails. They do thus avoid their staff being identifiable, which facilitates their secretive “watchdog” work behind office doors.

    The Office of Ombudsmen also have reception and front line people answer the phones, who do not identify themselves by name, as anecdotal evidence suggests they do at times face much abuse from members of the public, who are not happy with the way their complaints are being handled. They claim they do not disclose their names for privacy reasons.

    This whole review that former Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem (the “Dame”) conducted was a in some ways a bit farcical, maybe not really a sincere exercise after all, as the Ombudsmen know full well how much criticism comes their own way, on a daily basis.

  10. I want to echo the well dones from above.
    I admire yours and others tenacity in dealing with these officials.
    Thank-you.

    Rest assured that lots of us read and absorb the details of these shenanagins.

    I did have to roll my eyes at the notion of paying for information we already own….
    then realized that thousands lined up to buy shares in power city companies they already own.
    Business as usual.

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