Government officials' attempts to suspend the release of legally mandated citizen requested information has been foiled by the country's top information watchdog.
But government departments have been delaying the release of official information well beyond the legal timeframe, saying the lockdown is affecting their ability to provide the information.
According to Newsroom, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier was forced to intervene in a Government proposal to suspend the Official Information Act (OIA) while the country was in level 4 lockdown.
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Boshier pushed back on the proposal, saying he was "horrified by the suggestion".
"The OIA is a prime means of accountability at a time when what other accountability is there?" he told the publication.
OIAs are used by everyday New Zealanders, the Opposition and journalists on a regular basis.
Anyone has the right to request information from the Government through an OIA.
But despite Boshier's push back on the proposal, government departments have been extending how long it takes for them to provide the information.
One OIA lodged by the Herald on February 21 has been delayed until May 15 – well beyond the legal time frame for providing information.
The government agency said Covid-19 was the reason for the delay.
"As you will understand, the Treasury is currently directing resources to support the Government's response to Covid-19. This has meant delays in the preparation and processing of OIA responses such as this one."
And it's a similar story with other government agencies as well.
Meanwhile, complaints to the Ombudsman about the delay in information have had little to no effect, as some government departments have not been responding.
"I am still waiting for a response from the Ministry of Health to my further queries on your Official Information Act complaint," an email to a Herald reporter from the Ombudsman said.
Boshier said he had been consulted by officials before the lockdown as to whether the OIA should be suspended because of the Government's inability to comply.
He would not tell Newsroom who proposed the suspension and government ministers have denied any involvement with the proposal.
State Services Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement: "We are all working very hard to ensure the OIA is complied with during the response to Covid-19."