by Holly Walker
Today Parliament marked the 50th Anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman. Ours was the first in an English-speaking country and was used as a model for the spread of the office throughout the world, which is a pretty cool thing.
On the same day that we celebrated their work, the Office of the Ombudsman has pleaded for help.
Their annual report was tabled in the House today, which shows that they are under acute pressure because of an increased workload, while at the same time suffering from underfunding.
The Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem has also voiced concern about what she sees as a “worrying trend” of agencies seeking to exclude certain types of information from applying to OIAs. This disturbing practice happens by excluding the application of the OIA to legislation. Included in this list is the Mixed Ownership Model Act (the law allowing for the sale of our assets).
The Office of the Ombudsman and the OIA are an incredibly important part of upholding openness and democracy in New Zealand. Citizens should be able to actively engage in our democracy, but in order for this to happen we need freedom of information and openness of government and its procedures. This is what the Office of the Ombudsman facilitates.
They investigate complaints on the conduct of central and local government agencies and the decisions of Ministers, central and local government. They also protect and monitor implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, monitor the treatment of people in prisons, health and disability places of detention, and youth justice residences. They also provide guidance for those wishing to report serious wrong-doing in their workplace (‘whistle-blowing’).
These are all important functions, and they deserve to be adequately resourced.