Are Councils fibbing in response to official information requests

The Taxpayers Unions blogs:

It appears that the councils of two of our largest cities do not take freedom of information laws seriously. As a constitutional lawyer and advocate for government transparency, I am deeply saddened.

Cost of ’s website – $317,726 or $1.7million? Depends who’s asking…

Last week the Taxpayers’ Union criticised Marlborough City Council for spending $410,000 on web design and development. We made a feature of it on our website and our analysis was even covered in the local paper. We thought the amount was outrageous – ‘$100,000 more than Wellington City’s award winning website’.

We were wrong. Though the Wellington City Council told us it had spent $317,726, it had told someone else it had spent $1.7million on the same wellington.govt.nz site. Though we’ve written (and spoken) to the Council’s CEO, the inconsistency has not been explained. We’ve posted the two information request responses, as well as the ‘please explain’ letterhere.

When a Council provides too massively different figures for the cost of their website, that’s a very bad look. Far too many Councils seem to have an attitude that requests are a matter of voluntary compliance, not law.

But seems to be playing games also, denying a trip even occurred:

We asked Auckland Council about a mayoral trip to China – officials suggested the trip never happened

Over some months, a number of Taxpayers’ Union volunteers have made official information requests relating to items of sensitive expenditure such as credit cards and international travel.

We had a tip that related to inappropriate credit card expenditure by the interpreter who accompanied Auckland’s Mayor on a trip to China in January or February 2013. We made an official information request to Auckland Council to identify the Council official so we could review the expenses.

Because we did not know the precise dates of the January/February 2013 trip, but understood that it was the Mayor’s most recent trip to China, we couched the request in those terms.

The Council’s response and the attachment is here and here. They refers to the identity of an interpreter who travelled with the Mayor on a trade delegation to China in April 2012. No mention is made of the early 2013 trip.

On Friday afternoon, the Taxpayers’ Union spoke to an official at the Auckland Council who confirmed that the Council misled us.

Again, it just isn’t good enough.

The other issue I have noticed with some Councils is that they have a policy where they will charge for any LGOIMA request that takes more than 30 minutes to respond to, regardless of how reasonable it is. Charging should be for requests which are hugely excessive, not for any time over half an hour.

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