Gareth Hughes
Celebrating our right to know

Tomorrow (28th September) is ‘International Right to Know Day’ – a day set up to promote the right to access information – the right to know. This year marks ten years since it was first launched by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network, who wanted to raise awareness about the public’s right to access government-held information, like how decisions are made, and how public money is spent.

RTKD posterOn Twitter, there’s some great information being shared on #RTKD2013 about what our rights are and how the public can access information in different countries.

Freedom of information and open government is so important for helping the public to actively engage in a democracy.

Here in Aotearoa, we’re lucky enough to have the Official Information Act (OIA) and the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act (LGOIMA) that give us the ability to request access to official information from the government and local authorities.

But we could do better.

That’s why we’ve been fighting for better transparency around lobbying, because we believe that the public have a right to know who is influencing the decision makers about what.

And why we’ve been pushing for increased funding for the Office of the Ombudsman, who are under acute pressure because of a surge in the number of complaints from the public over the way government agencies are releasing information, while at the same time the office is suffering from serious underfunding.

And it’s why we’ll be submitting on the upcoming Standing Orders review, putting forward positive solutions to help improve our law-making and strengthen the public’s ability to have a say on legislation.

We’ll also be keeping an eye on what the Government does as a new member of the Open Government Partnership. This is a formal partnership of 58 countries committed to the principles of transparency and open government through increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, supporting civic participation, implementing the highest standards of professional integrity, and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability. The NZ Government has been dragging their heels on this for a long time, but finally last week signalled that they will be signing up to it by the end of the year. It will be a great opportunity for us as a country to advance the principles of transparency and open government, so we’ll make sure that the Government stays true to these principles.

2 thoughts on “Celebrating our right to know

  1. Infertile people who use Human Assisted Reproductive Technologies in New Zealand are forced by law to tell their offspring their genetic origins, but no such legal obligation exists for the fertile majority, the people who produce by far the largest numbers of children of unknown genetic origin.

    Will the Green change the law and force fertile people to be honest, or force all children born in NZ to have genetic testing, including parental testing that they must legally be told whatever the parents wishes are?

    Are you still celebrating the right to know?

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  2. And why we’ve been pushing for increased funding for the Office of the Ombudsman, who are under acute pressure because of a surge in the number of complaints from the public over the way government agencies are releasing information, while at the same time the office is suffering from serious underfunding.

    The incentives are all wrong in this area. When Ministers don’t make it a point to hold their department heads, or their own offices, accountable for OIA complaiance, and they rarely do have an interest in compliance for political reasons, there’s little encouragement for the entity itself to prioritise compliance with the law by replying to requests on time, and replying correctly as required by law.

    It’s no wonder that the Office of the Ombudsman gets swamped with so many complaints during a time when there’s higher controversy around governance, when Ministers make no effort to ensure that their departments and offices respond correctly. Yet departments are barely being penalised at all, because the structure of the law means that when they don’t do their job properly, it’s the Ombudsman’s Office which has to stomach the bulk of the cost for the bulk of the investigation work for every complaint. The worst consequence for a department is that it might be forced to do what it was meant to do properly in the first place.

    The entire investigation and correction process would work so much better if government entities, themselves, were required to pay Ombudsman’s fees, to cover the cost of investigation, every time the entity was found to be at fault as the result of a complaint.

    This places the cost of an entity’s fault (be it department, Minister’s Office, or whatever) directly on the entity. There’s a direct incentive for the entity to comply with the OIA as correctly as possible, to begin with. Furthermore, the Ombudsman doesn’t have to stomach the cost of complaints, unless those complaints were unwarranted.

    Someone (I think from Labour?) had a Bill in the ballot several years ago, basically to make this change to the OIA, but the idea seems to have dissolved since then.

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