State Services Commission fails to ensure transparency

Published: Tue 25 Oct 2016 09:03 AM
PRESS RELEASE: No Pride in Prisons
State Services Commission fails to ensure government openness and transparency
The State Services Commission has just released its second Open Government Partnership National Action Plan. It was submitted several months late, and critics say it is unambitious in its targets.
No Pride in Prisons spokesperson Ti Lamusse says, “As an organisation that regularly submits Official Information Act (OIA) requests, we are constantly frustrated by the lack of openness and accountability of many government agencies. This plan does not go nearly far enough.”
One of the objectives set out by the Commission is "to make government information more accessible by adopting a consistent set of agency practices in response to requests for official information."
“This is not an objective which should need to be set. By not complying with the Official Information Act, government agencies are breaking the law,” says Lamusse.
“What is really lacking from the Official Information framework is a watchdog who can actually enforce the law. The Ombudsman is currently the OIA watchdog, but it lacks the mandate to do anything other than recommend that the department in question stop acting illegally.”
“The National Action Plan falls woefully short of this. The Commission has set milestones for increasing compliance, which assumes that government departments are not complying with the law because they are ignorant of it,” says Lamusse.
No Pride in Prisons says that its experience of dealing with OIA requests demonstrates a concerted effort by departments to avoid transparency. “We have had requests ignored, requests that are responded to months overdue, and requests that have been denied because the content may be politically damaging to the government.”
According to the Ombudsman, departments consistently ignore the timeliness provisions in the OIA, which states that decisions should be made "as soon as reasonably practicable." Instead they often respond at the absolute maximum time frame of 20 working days after the request was received.
“Government departments will continue to ignore the law unless something changes. For the sake of openness and accountability, No Pride in Prisons demands that the Ombudsman be given the power to force departments to comply with the law and penalise those which do not.”
“Government departments should be accountable to the people, not politicians.”

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