Govt officials proposed suspending the OIA

Sam Sachdeva at newsroom writes:

At a time when the Government has been given sweeping powers for the Covid-19 response, officials suggested the Official Information Act be suspended during lockdown – a proposal which led to the Chief Ombudsman stepping in

Government officials proposed suspending the Official Information Act during the coronavirus lockdown – a suggestion that was headed off after the intervention of the country’s official information watchdog, Newsroom can reveal.

Ministers have denied any involvement in the proposal, saying the legislation is more important than ever at a time of crisis where they have been given extended powers.

Speaking to Newsroom about how his office had handled its duties during the Covid-19 lockdown, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said he had been forced to intervene in government plans before New Zealand reached Alert Level 4.

“Prior to the lockdown, I was consulted as to whether or not the ought to be subject to suspension or amendment during lockdown because of the inability of agencies to be able to comply and I was horrified at any such suggestion,” Boshier said.

“The OIA is a prime means of accountability at a time when what other accountability is there?”

He would not say specifically who had contacted him with the proposal, identifying them only as “government policy advisers”, but had subsequently contacted Solicitor-General Una Jagose to discuss his concerns about the suggestion.

My God. What a terrible idea. Thankfully the idea was squashed in its infancy.

I note it says Ministers say they were not involved, but that doesn’t exclude ministerial staff. It would be useful to clarify whether or not the proposal came from them, or from a government agency.

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