A previous enlightened government gave New Zealanders a powerful tool for holding Council and Government to account. If you want to find out what central Government is up to, the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA), applies to Ministers and central government agencies.
Here, we guide you on finding out what Councils and other bodies are doing. This is covered by the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA).
The short version is that you can ask for information from your local Council and other local government organisations in any form and they have to answer within 20 days or give a good reason why not. Your request can be in any form, even verbal. Of course, there are things you can do to ensure you get the answer you want. Remember the clerks dealing with your request are simply doing their job: it helps you if you can help them by making clear, precise and specific requests. Much of the information below is taken from the Ombudman’s Office’s guide for local government agencies.
What is the LGOIMA?
The LGOIMA allows people to request official information held by local government agencies. It contains rules for how such requests should be handled, and provides a right to complain to the Ombudsman in certain situations. The LGOIMA also has provisions governing the conduct of meetings.
The principle of availability underpins the whole of the LGOIMA. The Act explicitly states that:1The question whether any official information is to be made available … shall be determined, except where this Act otherwise expressly requires, in accordance with the purposes of this Act and the principle that the information shall be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it.
The agencies subject to the LGOIMA include: city, district and regional councils; council-controlled organisations;airport authorities; community boards; irrigation boards; licensing trusts; administering bodies under the Reserves Act 1977; local boards under the Local Government Act 2002; and particular agencies listed in Part 2 of Schedule 1, including, for instance, the Independent Maori Statutory Board, and the Board of the Museum of Transport and Technology.
What is official information?
Official information means any information held by an agency subject to the LGOIMA. It is not limited to documentary material and includes material held in any format such as written documents, reports, memoranda, letters, notes, emails and draft documents; non-written documentary information, such as material stored on or generated by computers, including databases, video or tape recordings; information which is known to an agency, but which has not yet been recorded in writing or otherwise (including knowledge of a particular matter held by an officer, employee or member of an agency in their official capacity); documents and manuals which set out the policies, principles, rules or guidelines for decision making by an agency; the reasons for any decisions that have been made about a person.
Who can make a LGOIMA request?
There is no restriction on eligibility of requesters under the LGOIMA. A LGOIMA request can be made by ‘any person’ including individuals and groups.
The form of a LGOIMA request
There is no set way in which a request must be made. A LGOIMA request is made in any case when a person asks an agency for access to specified official information.21In particular:
- a request can be made in any form and communicated by any means, including orally;
- the requester does not need to refer to the LGOIMA;
If a request is made orally, an agency may ask for it to be put in writing if that is ‘reasonably necessary’to clarify the request. If the requester refuses or is unable to do so, then the agency must record its understanding of the request and provide a copy of that record to the requester. The working day count will start the day after the requester confirms or clarifies the agency’s understanding of the request is correct.
‘Due particularity’—a requester’s obligation: To be a valid request, the information sought must be ‘specified with due particularity’. This means that the agency must be reasonably able to identify what information is being requested.
An agency’s duty to assist
Agencies must be mindful of their duty to give reasonable assistance to a person who:
- wishes to make a request in accordance with section 10of the LGOIMA;
- in making such a request, has not done so in accordance with the requirements in that section;
- or has not made the request to the appropriate agency.
Reasonable assistance is more than telling the requester that the request is not specific. Having regard to the purposes of the LGOIMA and the principle of availability, all reasonable steps should be taken to provide assistance. The aim of the assistance should be to enable the requester to clarify the request so that it is specific enough for the agency to identify the information sought.
The LGOIMA guide for agencies is 55 pages long. It’s worth gaining a familiarity with it so that you can be as helpful as possible to ensure that you get the information you need. It helps to spot the difference between an agency that is being reluctant to give you the information and one that has to go through internal processes to obtain it.
The agency may refuse to provide the information, or give it in a form that fails to answer your question. Or they may take longer than 20 days without explaining the reasons for the delay. You may complain to the Office of the Ombudsman. Entire City Councils have been taken to task over their poor record on supplying information, so it’s always worth following up if you aren’t satisfied with the information supplied.
For information about meetings of agencies and the standards they are expected to comply with, see Conducting Meetings.