Ombudsman tells MPI to apologise for withholding official info

Following an investigation by the Ombudsman’s Office, MPI has been reprimanded for unlawfully withholding official information from Forest & Bird.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has been told to apologise to Forest & Bird for failing to provide information on the Government’s Kauri Dieback Programme, as they are required to do by law. The Ombudsman Leo Donnelly has also told Forest & Bird that he will begin an investigation into the Ministry’s delay.

Furthermore, just one day after the Ombudsman’s recommendation to MPI, but nearly four months after Forest & Bird’s official information request, MPI has finally provided the information as asked.  

Forest & Bird Kauri Dieback spokesperson Dr Rebecca Stirnemann says “We are very grateful to the Office of the Ombudsman for their straightforward and timely investigation of MPI’s behaviour.

“MPI is one of a number of government agencies that routinely withhold or delay the release of information which has the potential to make them, their Minister, or sometimes commercial organisations look bad. Yet this is often the very information that New Zealanders need to know about .
“Access to official information is the basis of an open and accountable government. The Ombudsman’s recommendation to MPI to apologise for withholding information is a strong signal that the culture of secrecy and obstruction in some Ministries has to end.
“MPI should be deeply embarrassed, and its new Ministers must ensure there is both a major culture change and the resources available to ensure our government remains transparent and able to meet its statutory deadlines,” says Dr Stirnemann.
The Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has already pointed out widespread undermining of the Official Information Act by previous government ministers and officials.

Forest & Bird’s original request for information on the Kauri Dieback Programme was made on the 17th of August.  

Nearly a month later, on the 14th of September, MPI told the organisation they could not reasonably meet the normal 20 day time-frame, and would respond to the request by the 26th of October. At this point, Forest & Bird made a formal complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office.

On the 27th of October, over two months after the original request was made, Forest & Bird had still not heard from MPI, and the Ombudsman’s Office advised they had begun an investigation.

On the 14th December, the Ombudsman, Leo Donnelly, wrote to Forest & Bird to say he had concluded MPI should not have extended the timeframe for responding to the original request, and he’d recommended that MPI apologise to Forest & Bird. He also added that he would begin an investigation into causes of the delay.

The very next day, the 15th of December, MPI provided the requested information to Forest & Bird. It had taken them almost four months to provide meeting minutes and reports on a biosecurity programme, but just one day to do so after being reprimanded by the Ombudsman.