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Ombudsman offices keen to share information

Thursday 9 June 2022 | Written by Matthew Littlewood | Published in Economy, National

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Ombudsman offices keen to share information
New Zealand Ombudsman Peter Boshier and Cook Islands Ombudsman Niki Rattle will be sharing information over the coming week. Photo: Matthew Littlewood/22060713

Freedom of information remains more important than ever in this Covid-19 world, New Zealand Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says.

Peter Boshier, who is here for a week to help Cook Islands Ombudsman Niki Rattle, told Cook Islands News it was important the organisation was appropriately resourced.

In the Cook Islands, the Ombudsman has the mandate to investigate and review complaints about decisions made by Ministries, Ministers of the Crown and Crown Agencies on requests for official information held by the Cook Islands Government.

Boshier said the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman has similar powers, although it does not cover the police force like the Cook Islands office does. In New Zealand, complaints against police are handled by the Independent Police Conduct Authority.

“Our Official Information Act in New Zealand is almost the same as that of the Cook Islands,” Boshier said.

“We’ve got an office of almost 200 staff in New Zealand, so we’re able to offer the Cook Islands advice on difficult investigations, we’re able to offer our advice on investigative techniques, and we’ve done a lot of work on international conventions, particularly as it relates to disability issues. We’ve just got that extra experience.”

Boshier said Covid-19 brought about a 37 per cent increase in complaints and requests for information to the New Zealand Office of the Ombudsman.

“Most of the increase of complaints were related to Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ). There were also a number of complaints and request for information about the wage subsidy,” Boshier said.

“There were also a lot of requests for information about the Pfizer vaccine, how much it cost, what its success rate was and so on.”

Boshier said with news cycles becoming increasingly fast, the role of the Ombudsman’s office in getting important information out to the public was more important than ever.

“Transparency gives democracy its proper platform,” Boshier said.

Boshier said it would support the Cook Islands office with advice and techniques to deal with significant investigations.

“Speed and timeliness have to be paramount. There’s no point coming to the Ombudsman’s office if it takes a long, long time to get your request processed. So, we’ve been able to talk with the Cook Islands office about techniques and ways to speed up the process, and getting a resolution that’s satisfactory,” he said.

Rattle, who was sworn in as Cook Islands Ombudsman earlier this year, said she noticed there had been several cases that had been in the backlog for some time. She hoped to improve the relationships with the relevant Ministerial departments.

“The Official Information Act is very clear: when people request information, they have to receive it unless it’s of a terrible threat to the country. Departments need to understand that when information is requested, they can’t just say ‘no, you can’t have that’,” Rattle said.

Boshier said the role of Ombudsman carries enormous constitutional responsibilities.

“Being politically neutral and shining a light on things is enormously important, but what gives me the most satisfaction is dealing with a small complaint from someone who has gone through a number of agencies and cannot get it fixed until they come to us,” he said.

“It’s knowing we can help people and that it’s a free service.”