Chapter 13: Oversight of official information legislation

The problem

The current New Zealand official information legislation (OIA and LGOIMA) prescribes very few functions for agencies other than the complaints jurisdiction of the Ombudsmen.685 In particular there is no provision for any oversight, guidance, or training roles. Our review found that the lack of any statutory oversight in New Zealand for the last 30 years has resulted in some gaps and inefficiencies, as summarised below.

(a)There is no government “owner” of the official information function. The Ministry of Justice administers the OIA and the State Services Commission and Department of Internal Affairs have provided supporting advice and material but there has been no whole-of-government oversight of the operation of the two statutes.

(b)No organisation has explicit responsibility to provide guidance to assist understanding of the legislation by officials and requesters. Some training advice is provided by the overstretched Office of the Ombudsmen without legislative mandate.

(c)There is no central co-ordination or oversight of internal management systems for dealing with official information requests and little sharing of common issues or problems, which results in agencies working in silos.

(d)There is no central set of statistics or other information relating to the operation of the OIA or LGOIMA to provide a context for monitoring the routine effectiveness of either Act.

(e)Management of official information has been transformed by the new opportunities for pro-active release resulting from information technology developments but significant government policy initiatives in this direction have not always been integrated with official information legislation and best practice.

(f)There is no body to manage the interface between the official information legislation and other Acts regulating information management, particularly the Public Records Act 2005.

(g)Finally, there is no oversight of the purposes of the legislation and therefore no body responsible for championing open government. The first purpose of the OIA is “to increase progressively the availability of official information to the people of New Zealand- - -”.686

In its 1997 review of the OIA, the Law Commission considered there was a strong case for systemic review and oversight of the OIA, and thought the Ministry of Justice was an appropriate body to take on that function. That recommendation was not accepted. The lack of oversight contrasts with more recent information statutes that impose such functions on statutory officers, such as the Privacy Commissioner in relation to the Privacy Act 1993 and the Chief Archivist in relation to the Public Records Act 2005, and also with the Human Rights Commission in relation to the Human Rights Act 1993.

When we started this review we knew that the official information framework, designed for a paper world, had been left behind by new technology. We found that to be only one aspect of the information transformation taking place. The options for sharing and reusing information are still expanding exponentially in our rapidly evolving digital working environment, as we have seen in chapter 12. Management of public information, including oversight of the official information function, is a more complex whole-of-government operation than in 1982 when the OIA was passed.

We believe the need to establish a high level leadership role for official information within Government’s information management structure is now compelling in order to avoid problems and take advantage of opportunities. That is the primary recommendation in this chapter and appears to be in accord with Government’s direction for information management generally.


Alignment with Government Objectives

This review is therefore timely in considering which statutory functions are desirable to assist efficiency, not just for the operation of OIA and LGOIMA but also in fitting that legislation into the wider government information management landscape, with strong emphasis on pro-active release. It is critical, in our view, for the oversight framework to include co-ordination with whole-of-government information policy. Our task in considering an appropriate structural framework for official information legislation is therefore twofold:

(a)to propose a way to ensure there can be improved capacity to carry out functions inadequately carried out at present; and

(b)to ensure seamless integration of the OIA and LGOIMA with new Government information management initiatives.

We see the second objective as necessary both for the success of new initiatives and to carry official information principles into the future. Feedback from submissions, which highlight the gaps and inefficiencies summarised at the start of this chapter, reinforce our conclusion that a more formal structure than at present is required. Continued fragmented management of the official information function will limit the potential for co-ordination with related Government information initiatives in our view.

A key component of current Government economic strategy is to lift productivity and improve services in the public sector – to deliver “better, smarter public services for less”.687 Streamlining the operation of the official information function and the promotion of proactive disclosure of official information, potentially reducing the transaction costs of individual requests, will contribute to that goal. We see overall cost benefits in establishing leadership of the official information function.

We have observed that the encompassing purposes of official information legislation are sometimes overlooked by officials.688 These purposes align with the expectations and result areas set by Government under the Better Public Services Programme.689 The fifth expectation is:

Greater responsiveness to the needs and expectations of New Zealanders and a willingness to do things differently, including more open and transparent government through access to more information.

Result Area 10, which is a key priority for the next three to five years is:

New Zealanders can complete their transactions with the Government easily in a digital environment.


In 2011 Cabinet approved the Principles for Managing Data and Information held by the New Zealand Government.690 The principle headed “Well-managed” is particularly relevant for oversight of official information:

Data and information held and owned by government:

·effectively belong to the New Zealand public;

·are a core strategic asset held by government as a steward on behalf of the public; and

·should only be collected or generated for specified public policy, operational business, or legislative purposes.

Agencies are stewards of government-held data and information and must provide and require good practices which manage the data and information over their life-cycle, including catering for technological obsolescence and long-term preservation and access. Good practices also include collaborating with other agencies and the public, facilitating access, strengthening awareness, and supporting international cooperation.

Agency custodians must implement these practices on a day-to-day basis.

It seems that there is a strong synchronous relationship between our review and Government’s strategic objectives in bringing the public service into the digital age. In our view, leadership of the various components of the Government information framework must include oversight of the operation of the OIA and LGOIMA so that there are consistent and connected future developments. This overarching objective is supported by the Data and Information Re-use Chief Executives Steering Group which submitted that:691

We feel there is a need for an integrated, future-focused strategic information management function that positions elements within the system to:

·Anticipate and avoid information related problems; and

·Take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The Ombudsmen’s OIA complaints jurisdiction is discussed in chapter 11.

OIA, s 4(a).

Budget Policy Statement 2010, p 10.

OIA, s 4; LGOIMA, s 4. To refer to these sections, see Appendix C to this report.

State Services Commission, papers released on Better Public Services Programme (4 May 2012).

Cabinet, Minute of Decision (8 August 2011) CAB Min (11) 29/12, available at <>.

Submission from Colin MacDonald, Chair, Data and Information Re-use Chief Executives Steering Group (16 March 2007).