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Education Ministry criticised over handling of OIA requests

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Latest Political News | Wednesday December 19 2012 5:07

Education Ministry criticised over handling of OIA requests

A bad year for the Education Minister has been topped off with heavy criticism being laid at the foot of her department by the Ombudsman.

David McGee has found the Education Ministry wrongly handled Official Information Act requests about proposed Christchurch school closures.

Labour MP Chris Hipkins says Hekia Parata is promoting a culture of secrecy around the plans for Christchurch.

"They are trying to pit schools against each other, and they've created this culture of suspicion, and that's really unhealthy.

"What they really should have been doing from the beginning is releasing all the information and saying 'Here's what we think the situation is, now have your say'."

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverly Wakem is to investigate concerns the sector is not managing requests for information under the Official Information Act as it should.

Politicians and journalists have this year noticed a marked change in the amount of public information being made available, as the law says it should.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei believes there's a directive from the Government to the public sector to keep as much information hidden as possible.

"Ministers need to come clean about the advice they're giving their own people, and also take responsibility for the fact they sign off on these at the end of the day.

"And if they are deliberately withholding information from the New Zealand public they need to explain why."

And an information law expert claims the failings of the Ministry of Education over the handling of Official Information Act requests should never have happened with a properly trained workforce.

Lawyer John Edwards says it was a dishonest thing to do.

He says if that communication was able to go out of the Ministry, they need to look at how widely the messages have been distributed over how to deal with official information requests.

John Edwards says it's important requests are handled appropriately, otherwise people lose confidence in government agencies.

A wider inquiry is also to be held into the way the public sector in general handles Official Information Act requests.

Photo: Hekia Parata (Getty Images)

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