Annual Report 2018/2019
It was a busy year. A very busy year.
Using almost all measures, the level of our work increased, yet our results were, overall, very pleasing.
The provision of advice to public sector agencies rose 29 percent, and the Office published 23 new or updated pieces of guidance material. These are important metrics as a key part of my role is to improve the capability of agencies, which in turn lifts the performance of the whole public sector. The aim is to give the people of Aotearoa/New Zealand more confidence in government, a greater sense that information is freely available, and that they are being treated fairly.
I also concluded nine official information practice investigations into six central government agencies and three local government agencies, another key method of improving public sector performance.
The achievements of the past year are a credit to all my colleagues in the Office of the Ombudsman. I am immensely grateful for their efforts, professionalism, dedication, and hard work.
My Office operates in an environment where both domestic and international stakeholders have high expectations, and there is a significant demand for our services.
Traditionally, my activities are a balance between a reactive focus on resolving complaints from the public, and a proactive focus on identifying, resolving and investigating systemic issues, monitoring compliance and good practice, and providing advice, guidance and training.
Now my mandate is broadening to include three new initiatives.
Each is an extension of my existing work overseeing the administrative actions of all state agencies. In June 2018, I was tasked with monitoring the treatment of patients in privately-run aged care facilities and detainees in court cells.
In April this year, I was given an enhanced role in relation to Oranga Tamariki—Ministry for Children. This will involve overseeing complaints and investigations relating to Oranga Tamariki and children and young people in state custody. I also launched a separate wide–ranging and independent investigation into the steps Oranga Tamariki takes when newborn babies are removed from their parents or caregivers.
I was delighted that Parliament saw fit to increase my funding so I can develop a flexible and responsive four–year Asia–Pacific Ombudsman institutional support programme. My Office has a long history of supporting the development of international Ombudsman institutions, and is committed to not only learning from, but also supporting other nations’ integrity organisations, especially in the Pacific.
I believe my Office has received these new responsibilities because of its reputation established since the first Ombudsman took office in this country 56 years ago. A reputation based on conducting high quality, independent and fair minded investigations.
My Office will be expanding both in numbers and in expertise to meet these new challenges.
I wish to make other improvements over the next 12 months and beyond.
The Office of the Ombudsman is known in Te Reo as Tari o te Kaitiaki Mana Tangata. We are responsible for the kaitiakitanga or guardianship of all New Zealanders. A top priority for me is to improve our relationship with tangata whenua. Our research shows Māori awareness of my office is unacceptably low. Therefore, a key focus in the next year will be increasing our engagement with Māori.
I will also be working to improve awareness of the Protected Disclosures Act. The Ombudsman is one of the authorities where people can report concerns about serious wrongdoing in public and private organisations. In the past year I commissioned a national survey, which showed just nine percent of respondents were aware of the legislation.
Mechanisms to expose and investigate serious wrongdoing can only be effective when people feel confident about using them. If they are unaware of the protections available, or do not know how to raise concerns through the right channels, incidents of serious wrongdoing could go undetected. Trust in our democratic institutions can only be improved by bringing such incidents to light and independently investigating them.
Lastly, I have an active role in the rights of the disabled and we aim to ensure those rights are at the heart of our work and culture. My work alongside our partners over the past year has included creating a guide for people to making complaints to the United Nations.
An ongoing question during the year was whether or not legislation such as the Official Information Act needed changing. The Act was passed in 1982, and while largely fit for purpose, I believe improvements could be made. There have been huge social and technological changes in the past 36 years and any law ought to reflect these developments.
Crucially, we need to address the problem with how the Act is perceived as working, and consequently, with its credibility. In my submission to the Ministry of Justice on this issue, I noted a number of areas that could be reviewed to close loopholes, provide certainty or clarification, tighten up reporting, and ensure the integrity of the legislation is maintained and enhanced.
In this report, you will see what my Office has achieved already, and get a sense of where it is heading. If the coming year mirrors that just past, we are in for a busy and interesting time.
The institution of Ombudsman is an essential part of New Zealand’s constitutional and democratic framework, and I am grateful for Parliament’s continued support for the important work I do.