27 October 2016

The State Services Commission and the Office of the Ombudsman will work together to help State sector agencies improve how they are responding to Official Information Act requests, State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes and Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier have announced.

The joint work will assist in the delivery of one of the Commitments in New Zealand's National Action Plan under the international Open Government Partnership, published today by Minister of State Services Hon. Paula Bennett.

"Former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem made a number of recommendations in her seminal report into the OIA, 'Not a Game of Hide and Seek', and this commitment responds to her calls," Mr Hughes said.

"The aim here is to ensure regular reporting on compliance with the OIA, increase the pro-active release of official information across government, and to lift capability in agencies to ensure more consistent performance," said Mr Hughes.

"The Official Information Act gives New Zealanders the right to access information; it is vital the Act is working effectively and agencies are meeting their obligations," said Judge Boshier.

The work programme under the OGP will be led by the State Services Commission. The Office of the Ombudsman will collaborate with SSC on key projects, and other relevant agencies will also be invited to contribute.

"We need to develop a reporting regime that will give an accurate picture of compliance with the OIA across the State sector, and then make the results public," said Mr Hughes.  "This could include the volume of requests being received, the time taken to respond and other statistics on how agencies are responding to OIA requests."

"This will be a significant step forward in letting New Zealanders see how well government agencies are meeting their obligations," said Judge Boshier. "The data being published will include information from my office on the complaints being received," he said.

The Office of the Ombudsman and SSC are aiming to publish the first reports early in 2017 covering the period from 1 July 2016. 

SSC and the Ombudsman's Office will also cooperate on the development of improved guidance and training for agencies and people making requests. The Ombudsman's Office is already doing a considerable amount of work in this area. This guidance and training will help agencies be more consistent in how they manage and respond to requests, and help people seeking information get what they are looking for more easily.

"We need to help agencies respond to requests they receive in a consistent way and help people get the information they are looking for," Mr Hughes said.

SSC is also starting a work programme to get more information made available proactively. This will initially cover key documents such as decision papers, important briefings and key advice.

"These are important documents and they should be available to people who want to see them without having to make requests under the OIA," Mr Hughes said.

"New Zealand already has one of the world's most open and trustworthy governments, and I am committed to building on this and becoming more open and responsive," said Mr Hughes.

"I am very pleased to see this commitment to the OIA and to be working with SSC to make this programme happen," Judge Boshier said. "This work will complement the new Ombudsman programme of proactive audits of agency official information practices, which was funded and announced earlier this year, and which will begin next year."

New Zealand's second National Action Plan, including the OIA commitments is available on the newly established Open Government Partnership New Zealand website www.ogp.org.nz


Media contact: SSC Tim Ingleton (04) 495-6648, Office of the Ombudsman - Antonia Di Maio (04) 471-9118