The Official Information Act (OIA) is an important part of New Zealand's constitutional framework. The OIA allows New Zealanders to have access to information that enables their participation in their democracy and hold governments and public sector agencies to account.
The OIA allows New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, and anyone who is in New Zealand to request any official information held by government agencies.
You can ask for:
- access to any specified official information held by an agency
- reasons for decisions made about you (see section 23 of the OIA)
- internal policies, principles, rules or guidelines
- meeting agendas and minutes of public bodies.
Manatū Hauora has also recently developed and adopted the following:
- OIA policy – outlines the organisations obligations when responding to official information requests
- Proactive release policy – confirms the Ministry's commitment to the proactive release of information, including its requirements and procedures
- Charging policy – has been made consistent with the Charging Guidelines for the Public Service and sets out considerations when deciding whether to levy a charge for the supply of official information.
Manatū Hauora operates a centralised and collaborative model for responding to requests under the Official Information Act 1982 whereby OIA Services Team in the Government and Executive Services Directorate, work with teams in other Directorates and business units to respond to requests.
Manatū Hauora has continued to improve its OIA performance over the last two reporting periods and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our dedicated teams have worked diligently to provide timely and accurate information to the public, acknowledging the significant increased demand for information and effective communication.
Across public service departments for the January-June 2023 reporting period, Manatū Hauora:
- is 3rd highest for most OIAs completed (1,111 requests)
- increased the percentage of completed requests within legislated timeframes (97.9%)
- published the highest number of OIA responses on the website (187 responses); and
- is 3rd lowest for percentage of OIA requests subject to an extension (1.8%).
However, it is also important to note the overall increase in Ombudsman complaints data for public service departments and the significant volume of deficiency findings against Manatū Hauora.
|January – June 2023
|July – December 2022
|OIA requests completed by Manatū Hauora (departmental only)
|Percentage of OIA requests completed within timeframe
|Number of OIA requests subject to an extension
|Number of OIA request responses published on the website
|Average number of working days to respond
|OIA complaints received by the Ombudsman
|Findings of deficiency against Manatū Hauora
Under the Act, requesters have the right to seek a review by the Ombudsman on any decisions made by Manatū Hauora under the Act, including transfers, extensions and refusals. Many complaints are resolved informally, without the Ombudsman needing to open a formal investigation.
Since January 2017, the Chief Ombudsman has been publishing data on OIA complaints received on a six-monthly basis. The publications cover all Ministers and agencies against which an official information complaint has been received or completed by the Ombudsman during the reporting period.
Since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2019, the number of referrals to the Ombudsman has increased, reflecting the significant increase in the volume of requests received and completed.
The Ministry remains mindful of the substantial volume of OIA complaints received, and we are actively engaged in initiatives to improve this aspect of our operations. For instance, we are enhancing our internal training programmes to better equip our staff with skills in handling diverse OIA requests effectively. We are proactively working with requesters and the Ombudsman’s office on resolving issues before they escalate into formal complaints.
These improvements underscore our commitment to addressing the challenges posed by the high number of OIA volumes and resulting complaints, while maintaining our commitment to transparency and accountability.
While the OIA complaints data is an important tool for oversight and accountability, it may not provide a full and comprehensive representation of an agency’s current overall performance.
For example, there are factors that can influence the handling of requests and lead to complaints that do not directly relate to an agency’s OIA handling processes. It is therefore important to consider the context and complexities surrounding these datasets. For example, for the January-June 2023 reporting period, the office of the Ombudsman completed 66 investigations on the Ministry. Of the 66:
- over half/51.5%were discontinued/resolved without or during investigation/not investigated (34 cases)
- 48.5 per cent resulted in final opinions (32 cases).
Of the 32 finalised investigations where a final opinion was formed:
- 9 were opinions for, where the Ministry was found to have acted reasonably and in line with the OIA;
- 23 were opinions against
- 13 of which were cases coded as ‘refusal – in part’ as these relate to a group of complaints that were investigated together. The final opinion notes the Ministry had good reasons to withhold the requested information; however the public interest in release had not been sufficiently addressed.
- the remaining 10 deficiencies were across 7 cases only. The Ombudsman considers each ground of complaint, about an act or decision of an agency, raised by a complainant. As such, a single investigation could result in multiple outcomes.
Further, the number of complaints received by the Ombudsman may be a very small proportion of the total number of OIA requests received by an agency. By using the total number of requests received as a denominator, only 1.7% of the Ministry’s total responses result in a complaint.
OIA complaints about the refusal of COVID-19 vaccine contracts
The group of 13 complaints all related to the withholding of copies of the contracts between the Government and pharmaceutical companies for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. These were investigated with other requests made to the former Minister for COVID-19 Response and the Minister of Finance. From September 2021 to date, the Ministry received over 150 requests for copies of the contract.
In June 2023, the Chief Ombudsman formed the opinion that there were good reasons to withhold copies of the contracts in full, or redacted, however the public interest in transparency and accountability required the release of summary information in aggregate form which summarises the nature of the commitments made by the Government across all the contracts. A full copy of the final opinion can be found here.
In accordance with this recommendation, the Ministry has written a summary of information within the contracts, with input from Pharmac and the Treasury. This is due to be published on the Ministry website by 18 September 2023.
Historic complaints and function transfers
The grounds of complaints are published according to when the Ombudsman receives the complaint, not when the agency is made aware of the complaint. As such, there may be a gap that means a ground of complaint is included in a previous or future data set due to the amount of time taken to allow for allocation and assessment. Further guidance on Official information complaint data publications is available on the Ombudsman website here.
All but one of the deficiencies from this reporting period relate to requests made from late 2021 (COVID-19 contract OIAs) to October 2022. Two of the complaints now sit under the responsibility of another agency. As the information at the time was responded to by the Ministry, the deficiency remains with the original agency responding to the request. Furthermore, three of the complaints (excluding vaccine contract OIAs) are regarding COVID-19 or COVID-19 vaccine Adverse Events Following Immunisation.
Manatū Hauora is confident that the efforts to provide timely and accurate information through OIA requests have been robust, ensuring that the public and stakeholders are well-informed about critical health-related matters. However, we also recognise opportunities for further process improvements.
How to request official information from the Ministry of Health
The Ministry can only answer requests for information that it holds. There is no requirement for the Ministry to create new information, compile information it does not hold, or to provide an opinion.
For information from other agencies check out the Directory of Official Information to find out what information each agency holds, and their contact details.
Requests for information from the Ministry of Health can be sent via:
Requests should include:
- your name
- your contact details (email address or postal)
- details of the information you want – your request should be as clear and specific as possible.
You can specify the format you want the information presented in – for example by email or by post.
How long will it take?
We will acknowledge your request as soon as practicable and are required by law to respond no later than 20 working days after we receive it.
For large requests or those requiring consultation, the Act allows for a reasonable extension to this time limit. If so, we will let you know and give you a specific due date.
We may also transfer your request, either in full or part, to another agency subject to the Act if they are better placed to respond to that part of your request. We will advise both you and the agency we have transferred your request to of this decision.
If you amend your request, the 20 working days will start from the day after this amendment has been received. If we need to clarify your request and do so within the first seven working days, the 20 working day timeframe will begin again once the clarified request is confirmed.
The OIA says information should be made available unless there is good reason to withhold it. We may only withhold information for specific reasons set out in the Act. If this occurs, we will let you know why.
You have the right to view any personal information about yourself that the Ministry holds. This will be treated as a request under the Privacy Act 2020. To request this type of information you can email us at [email protected] or write to us at:
National Contact Centre
Ministry of Health
PO Box 3015
If you are unhappy with our response, you have the right to complain to the Office of the Ombudsman. The Chief Ombudsman recommends contacting us in the first instance to see if we can resolve the issue. The Ombudsman can be contacted at:
Email: [email protected]
Freephone: 0800 802602
Office of the Ombudsman
PO Box 10152