Alarm at moves to increase secrecy

The Ombudsmen's Office has warned of "highly dangerous" moves by the Government to keep information secret by drafting laws to avoid the Official Information Act.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverly Wakem said she was concerned at the increasing number of officials in government agencies who failed to understand the constitutional importance of the Act.

She pointed to several "reprehensible" attempts in the past year by officials to disallow Official Information Act requests for drafts of legislation, in particular on partial state asset sales, charter schools and changes to mining permits.

"I think it's the beginning of something that's highly dangerous. If this goes on, we will be appearing much more regularly at select committees when these things appear in the form of a Bill, and making our views heard loud and clear."

A Law Commission review of the Official Information Act said the refusal of information on the grounds of commercial sensitivity needed to be tightened.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said she was considering the commission's report and would respond later in the year.

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