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Board Legal Secretary
Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) has made a submission in support of a proposal to be included in Sir Geoffrey Palmer’s “A Constitution for Aotearoa New Zealand”, to give constitutional status to the right to access official information.
Former Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer addressed the TINZ Board earlier this year on the proposed constitution for New Zealand, and invited the Board to make a submission on certain provisions relating to transparency. The proposed Constitution has been drafted by him and constitutional lawyer Dr Andrew Butler. It is set out in their book and available online.
In his address to the Board, Sir Geoffrey emphasised the importance of having a constitution that clearly establishes the functions and power of government. Without clear rules, he warned of the possibility for public power to be abused by those in government. The book therefore “proposes a new constitution that is easy to understand, reflects New Zealand’s identity and nationhood, protects rights and liberties, and prevents governments from abusing power.”
TINZ’s submission, which relates to Part 14, article 114 ( Integrity and Transparency, Official Information) of the proposed Constitution, strongly supports the proposal to codify the right to official information. As noted by TINZ Chair, Suzanne Snively, a “written Constitution, which gives the principles of open government and transparency constitutional status, directly contributes to TINZ’s vision for a world with trusted integrity systems”.
TINZ also supports the re-establishment of an Information Authority to oversee the operation of the official information legal regime. Such an authority was initially set-up to oversee the operation of the Official Information Act, but its functions expired in 1988 and were never transferred to another agency. TINZ would, however, prefer to see that the complaints investigation function not be transferred to the Information Authority as proposed, but rather remain with the Ombudsman to ensure robust protection.
Finally, TINZ supports the proposal to remove the power of Cabinet to veto recommendations issued by the Ombudsman in respect of official information. TINZ considers that “it is inconsistent with the principles of open and transparent government for the Executive to have the ability to override independent recommendations issued by the Ombudsman, or a newly established Information Authority, following an independent investigation”.
TINZ looks forward to the outcome of the consultation process for the proposed constitution, which ends on December 1st 2017.
Dr Andrew Butler and Sir Geoffrey Palmer