19 February 2013

The report of the Government Administration Committee on the financial review of the Office of the Ombudsmen was published in January. It picked up some of the Ombudsmen’s oft repeated concerns about agencies disregarding their statutory obligations.

The Select Committee indicated that it, too, was concerned about the apparently low awareness of responsibilities under the Ombudsmen Act and the Official Information Act in some agencies and Ministers’ Offices. The Committee indicated that “…some agencies and offices need to increase their knowledge of their obligations under these Acts, which are integral to transparent decision-making in Government…”

This shared concern implies endorsement of the consideration being given by the Ombudsmen to launching an investigation into delays in responding to Official Information Act requests. Having been provided with a list of outstanding complaints for each agency, the Committee noted that there had been a large increase between 2008 and 2012 in the frequency of late responses by local authorities in particular, and by both the Earthquake Commission and the Ministry of Education.

The Ombudsmen’s Office has been asked to provide the Select Committee with regular updates “…to build a better picture of which agencies are performing their obligations adequately and those which need to improve their performance…”

The Committee indicated disagreement with Government policy relating to the mixed-ownership model proposed for state-owned energy companies, the introduction of charter schools, and changes to the State Sector Act to the extent that the proposals appear to diminish the ambit of the Ombudsmen. The Committee considers that these entities should continue to be subject to the Official Information Act and the Ombudsmen Act.