Freedom of information during COVID-19 in the Asia-Pacific region

Guest Article
Office of the Ombudsman | Tari o te Kaitiaki Mana Tangata

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 rates New Zealand first equal in the world with Denmark and Finland when it comes to public service openness and transparency. This high rating is largely due to the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) – New Zealand’s freedom of information law.

The OIA requires that official information held by government agencies and ministers must be made available to the public, unless there is good reason for withholding it.

The Ombudsman is responsible for monitoring OIA compliance

The New Zealand Ombudsman, Peter Boshier, is responsible for resolving complaints about decisions on OIA requests. He also monitors the general OIA compliance and good practice of public agencies, and provides guidance and training.

“In the environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that people know how to access official information and have the confidence and the tools to do that,” says Mr Boshier.

“While firm action is necessary to respond to keep people safe from the virus, extraordinary measures must not have unnecessary or disproportionate impact on people’s rights. Government decisions in these times are far reaching - impacting on people’s finances, accommodation, family, and wellbeing.”

Mr Boshier has publicly stated his expectation that while agencies and ministers focus on responding to the pandemic, they must also respond to requests for information about those issues as soon as possible. He called on people making these requests, and agencies receiving them, to act fairly, reasonably, and with understanding. His guide about official information requests during COVID-19 provides tools and strategies to help agencies deal with official information requests during the pandemic and provides advice to requesters to consider when making an official information request.

OIA and COVID-19

His guide on regulatory policy design during COVID-19 is intended to assist government agencies in designing and implementing robust, fair, and fit-for-purpose regulatory policies that enable the fair administration of government policy during the COVID-19 pandemic that takes into account existing rights and interests.

The pandemic has also seen an increase in the number and range of complaints Mr Boshier receives. He has released guidance to the public on the complaints he can and can’t investigate, particularly in relation to managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facilities. He has also chosen to investigate the agency responsible for MIQ and its administration of the booking system – the source of a large number of complaints.

Asia-Pacific freedom of information

Mr Boshier also has a role in providing regional leadership in Asia-Pacific. Recently he has been working with his international counterparts to support the development of freedom of information frameworks in Asia-Pacific during the pandemic.

Many countries in the region have made significant progress. Mr Boshier has supported these efforts by providing official information training, policy support, and legislation guidance, to counterparts in Solomon Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. A number of online training sessions were delivered in collaboration with the United Nations Pacific Regional Anti-Corruption Project.

A key theme identified in training events was the value of open and proactive information sharing during the pandemic. The proactive release of information in the context of COVID-19 promotes good governance, openness, and transparency, and fosters public trust and confidence in agencies. It also has administrative benefits for government agencies, including reducing requests for information that is already publicly available, and allowing easier handling of the requests that are received.

Find out more about the New Zealand Ombudsman’s role in developing anti-corruption and integrity practices, in turn contributing to regional stability and supporting integrity institutions in the Asia-Pacific, in his International Development and Engagement Strategy 2020-2023.

Contact if you would like to know more about Mr Boshier’s international work.

You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. See more at

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