Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes has today announced he will be expanding the performance measures of the Official Information Act for government agencies.
The Commissioner said the next data release for the six months to June 2022 will include more information on agency compliance with statutory timeframes, including information about OIA extensions, transfers, refusals and the average time to respond to OIA requests.
Mr Hughes first signalled the change publicly at the Governance and Administration Select Committee in June 2021.
The Commission’s analysis of OIA compliance, looking at 35 agencies, shows around nine in 10 OIAs are responded to within 20 working days. In addition, 10 agencies covering the bulk (67 percent) of all OIA responses, 94 percent were responded to within 20 days.
“Nevertheless, concerns have previously been raised around timeliness and use of extensions,” said Mr Hughes.
“Meeting the requirements of the OIA is a bottom line for the Public Service. To further promote transparency and the integrity of the OIA, I have decided to make more information available.”
Mr Hughes today released the latest OIA statistics for the six months to December 2021.
The latest statistics cover 121 agencies that collectively completed 29,681 official information requests between July and December 2021, a 7 percent increase in volume on the previous six months.
In the six months to December, 57 agencies completed 100 percent of their OIA requests within the legislated timeframe. Overall, agencies responded to 28,885, or 97.3 percent, of requests on time, compared with the 97.8 percent in the January to June 2021 period, but up on the same period last year (97.2 percent).
The performance of agencies has held up against another sizeable increase in volumes, particularly in the health sector.
“Agencies have managed to maintain a high level of timeliness despite another significant increase in volumes,” said Mr Hughes.
“This is a satisfactory result considering the unprecedented number of OIAs agencies are being asked to process and being in the middle of the challenge of leading the Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
In the six months to December 2021, complaints to the Ombudsman about the Public Service agencies, increased from 597 to 712, or 19 percent. Of these, 158 complaints resulted in formal notifications to agencies, down from 197 in the previous six months.
Mr Hughes said it was not surprising the number of complaints about OIA responses had increased, given the Public Service was front and centre of the Government’s COVID-19 response, which had created a 49 percent spike in requests for information about the Government’s actions and decisions. However, in the last six months the number of complaints has increased at a rate greater than the increase in OIA requests.
Since 2016, when the Commission started collecting OIA data, the volume of requests has increased 110 percent. Just 0.15 percent of all OIA responses result in a finding of deficiency by the Ombudsman.
While the proportion of complaints measured against the total number of requests received remained steady over the last five years, Mr Hughes agreed with the Ombudsman’s concern about the rate of increase in complaints and said he wanted to understand what was behind it.
“I want to have a look at the reasons for the increase and see what we can do to bring the numbers down and ensure official information is made more freely available,” said Mr Hughes.
Media queries: Guy Chisholm – 021 356 926 or firstname.lastname@example.org