State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has today published the first set of Official Information Act (OIA) statistics covering 110 different government agencies.
“It is essential that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in their government agencies,” Mr Hughes said.
“Being open and transparent is critical to giving the public confidence. When New Zealanders ask us for information we need to be responsive,” he said.
In 2015 former Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem made a number of recommendations in her report into the OIA, ‘Not a Game of Hide and Seek’.
The State Services Commissioner and the Public Service chief executives carefully considered Dame Beverley’s findings and recommendations. In response, they have developed a programme of work to improve how government agencies are complying with the OIA and making information publicly available. The incoming Chief Ombudsman, Judge Peter Boshier, has subsequently also been involved in supporting the work programme.
This programme is a formal commitment in New Zealand’s ‘National Action Plan 2016-18’ under the international Open Government Partnership.
“The government has demonstrated our commitment to improving OIA compliance by making it an independently assessed undertaking as part of an international treaty,” Mr Hughes said.
The first publication of statistics details the number of requests each agency received during the 2015/16 financial year (1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016) and whether they were handled within the timeframe required by the OIA. Over time the information on performance that is gathered and published will increase to provide a more comprehensive picture of compliance with the letter and spirit of the Act.
The Chief Ombudsman is also today releasing data on the complaints his office has received and the complaints they have ‘completed’ between 1 July 2016 and 31 December 2016.
“It’s important to look at these figures as a set to understand the volumes of requests being received and responded to as well as the complaints being made,” Mr Hughes said.
The total number of OIA requests received during 2015/16 was 40,273.
Requests to each agency range from 0 to 11,054. Around half of all requests were received by Police, EQC and the Department of Corrections. Other agencies receiving more than 1,000 requests include the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, Fire Service Commission, Ministry of Health and Customs Service.
“This is a large number of requests for information and agencies are investing a lot of resources in responding to them,” Mr Hughes said.
Under the OIA agencies are required to respond as soon as practicable, and in a maximum of 20 working days, unless there are grounds to extend the timeframe for response.
“I expect agencies to respond to OIA requests on time in accordance with the Act,” said Mr Hughes.
The timeliness agencies are achieving ranges from a low 39% to 100% on-time. The agency average is 91% of responses handled on-time. This average is however impacted by some outlying low numbers, and agencies’ median rate of on-time responses is 96%. One third of agencies achieve 99% or more on-time, however a quarter are below 85%.
“Most agencies are working hard to respond on time and are achieving a good standard of timeliness,” Mr Hughes said.
“It is clear that some agencies need to improve and have work to do to lift their performance,” he said.
“District health boards stand out as an agency group that is not meeting its timeliness obligations, which is concerning,” said Mr Hughes. “While some DHBs are doing well, too many are consistently late in their responses and need to do better”.
“I have asked the Director-General of Health to work with DHB Chief Executives to focus on improving OIA performance,” he said
SSC and the Office of the Ombudsman are cooperating on the development of improved guidance and training for agencies and people making requests. 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.
“I’m very pleased to be working closely with the Chief Ombudsman and I appreciate the leadership and support he is giving to this work,” Mr Hughes said.
“Openness and transparency is one of the four pillars of good government, along with free and frank advice, political neutrality and merit based appointment,” Mr Hughes said.
“It is important that we are open with New Zealanders and responsive to their requests,” he said.
“I am backing agencies in their work to improve their openness and SSC will support them to get it right,” said Mr Hughes.
Information on the numbers of requests received and on-time performance is available on SSC’s website http://www.ssc.govt.nz/official-information-act-statistics
Information on the number of complaints received is published by the Chief Ombudsman and is available on the Office of the Ombudsman’s website http://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/resources-and-publications/oia-complaints-data
Notes for reporters
Care should be taken when comparing the figures published by SSC and the Chief Ombudsman.
The numbers cover different time periods. The data published by SSC covers the 2015/16 government financial year (1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016), whereas the Chief Ombudsman’s complaints data covers the last six months of 2016 (1 July 2016 – 31 December 2016).
The OIA statistics released by SSC provide important context for the complaints data, as the number of complaints received does not on its own provide an accurate picture of compliance with the OIA.
Agencies with high levels of engagement with New Zealanders also tend to receive the largest numbers of OIA requests. While larger numbers of OIA requests may be associated with higher numbers of complaints to the Ombudsman, the number of complaints as a proportion of requests received may be in line with, or even lower than agencies with smaller numbers of requests.
- New Zealand Police, which has tens of thousands of interactions with New Zealanders every week. In 2015/16 Police received over one million phone calls, stopped around 630,000 vehicles and responded to around 930,000 events. In the second half of 2016, the Ombudsman received 75 OIA complaints about Police. To put this in context, Police received 11,054 OIA requests over the full year 2015/16.
- The Department of Corrections which is, at any one time, managing almost 10,000 prisoners and administering around 35,000 community based sentences. It received 2,457 OIA requests into its National Office in 2015/16. In the second half of 2016, the Ombudsman received 49 OIA complaints.
- The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) which has hundreds of thousands of customers at any time. Every week Work and Income sees 38,000 clients face-to-face and takes 144,000 phone calls. In the 2015/16 year Child, Youth and Family received over 140,000 notifications, taking further action to ensure the children’s safety in over 44,000 of these cases. MSD received 629 OIA requests in 2015/16 with 32 OIA complaints received by the Ombudsman in the second half of 2016.
Media contact: Tim Ingleton SSC (04) 495 6648