No progress on email inquiry

Dave Cull
Dave Cull
An investigation into the Dunedin City Council's refusal to release emails about the Dalai Lama's visit to Dunedin looks set to drag on into next year.

The delay comes as the Office of the Ombudsman continues to battle its way through more than 2000 complaints, and sheds staff as new recruits are taken on to help with the workload, it has been confirmed.

The Otago Daily Times lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman's Office in June - nearly six months ago - after the council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade both refused to release copies of the emails.

The exchange occurred when Mayor Dave Cull contacted Mfat officials to discuss the Tibetan spiritual leader's visit to Dunedin, and came to light only after Mr Cull initially denied seeking outside advice on the trip.

Mfat officials declined to release copies of the emails, saying publication could pose a threat to New Zealand's international relations, while council staff said publication could ''damage the public interest''.

There have been no signs of progress on the complaint since then, and an Ombudsman's Office spokeswoman could give no indication of the likely time frame when contacted yesterday.

Parliament had provided funding for six extra staff to help with the office's workload, but other staff had since retired or taken maternity leave, she said.

The Office of the Ombudsman planned to appoint and train more new staff, which could help address the more than 2000 complaints to be considered, but in the meantime no timeline on the ODT's complaint could be given, she said.

Her comments came after Ombudsman Beverley Wakem last year warned the office was ''sinking under the weight of the complaint burden''.

At the time, the office had 1854 complaints to deal with and members of the public were facing long delays.

''I'd say we are in crisis,'' she told Parliament's government administration committee.

''Justice delayed is justice denied and people are already distressed when they approach the office.''

- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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