More Top Stories

Rugby Union

Bigger and busier 2023: PM

31 December 2022

Rugby league

Moana target 2025 World Cup

11 November 2022

Cook Islands News lodges complaint with Parliamentary Services

Saturday 28 October 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Economy, National, Politics


Cook Islands News lodges complaint with Parliamentary Services
Clerk of Parliament Tangata Vainerere. 20100130

The Office of the Ombudsman has advised the Cook Islands News to lodge a complaint with Parliamentary Services, advising them of concerns in relation to the release of the MPs travel costs between July 1 to September 30, 2023.

While the publication had earlier sought the information through an Official Information Act (OIA) request, it is understood other media outlets were tipped off that the information would be released publicly on its website.

Instead, Parliamentary Services asked the publication to pay $977.34 for the information.    

The publication has lodged a complaint with Parliamentary Services.

Cook Islands News publisher John Woods described the situation as appalling and bad form, “obviously condoned by the Clerk of Parliament”.

“In my nearly 20 years as principal journalist of the daily newspaper I have never before experienced performance by the clerk as poor as this,” said Woods, the former managing editor of the newspaper.

“If we the news media cannot obtain impartial cooperation from the highest office in the machinery of democratic governance, it shows that our democracy is in jeopardy and bringing ridicule and contempt upon itself with complete justification.

“We shall be garnering collegial support for our opposition to this poor performance by the bureaucracy.”

Former Cook Islands Director of Audit, Paul Allsworth described the situation as “absolute rubbish”.

“The Official Information Act came through in 2009, it was applauded in the Pacific as the first and only OIA. Now you have obstacles in the way; it goes against the very principles of transparency.

“Today, with modern accounting and technology, it doesn’t take hours to get the information.

“If the current administration is pro-transparency, they will share the information; if you are over budget, there are two things, poor management, and you will have to top up the budget in the future.

“If you did it in the private sector you would be in trouble.”

Clerk of Parliament Tangata Vainerere acknowledged receipt of the complaint, saying “I am happy to explain myself and will respond when I’m ready.”

  • Al Williams

The letter of complaint

I am writing to express my serious concern about the way in which the Parliamentary Services have handled the Official Information Act (OIA) request filed by the Cook Islands News on September 27, 2023, seeking the travel costs of MPs.

The Cook Islands News requested a breakdown of each MP’s travel costs, including allowances, accommodation, dates, duration, and reason for travel in the new financial year, from July 1, 2023, to September 30.

The Parliamentary Services initially quoted the publication a fee of $1047.15 for the information. After the Ombudsman’s Office advised that it was “unreasonable” to charge for the cost of retrieving and collating the information, the Parliamentary Services through you reiterated that there was “potential” for charges in relation to the request.

Despite the fact that there was no agreement reached between the newspaper and the Parliament to pay any fee, you then advised the newspaper that your team was close to finalising the figures and asked for payment of $977.34. When the Cook Islands News protested this, the Parliamentary Services went ahead and published the information on its website without informing the newspaper - the organisation that requested this information under OIA. We have been made aware that your office tipped off other media organisations about this information which was subsequently made available on the Parliamentary website, while asking for payment from CI News.

We believe that you have breached Section 11 of the Official Information Act by not directly providing the information we requested under the OIA, not informing us of your refusal to provide that information and the reasons, and publishing it on the Parliament website without our knowledge.

We understand that Parliament had the intention to publish this information on its website as a show of transparency. However, we believe requesting the newspaper to pay for information that Parliament intends to publish anyway questions the intention and integrity of the Parliamentary Services.

We are also concerned that the information we had requested was given to other media organisations without our knowledge. This brings into question the fairness and impartiality of the Parliamentary Services.

We kindly call on you to explain your actions to us and to the public by close of business on Friday, November 3, 2023.