Monday, June 22, 2015

Hide and seek

Back in August 2013 when Simon Denny and Robert Leonard were selected by CNZ as the team for the Venice Biennale 2015 we asked Creative NZ if we could have the names of the other artists and curators who submitted projects. Creative NZ said no. We argued that the decision making process could not be properly evaluated unless those who had put themselves into the running were known. Creative NZ said no again. The names, we were told, were confidential. Creative NZ believed that people would be put off applying if their names were made public and suggested we take the question to the Office of the Ombudsman if we wanted to take it further.

So on 13 September 2013 that’s what we did. After six months of silence we emailed the Office of the Ombudsman on 16 March 2014 to see if there had been progress. There hadn’t. Six months later again, on 15 October 2014, the Office of the Ombudsman emailed us. Our request was now with a new officer who would be ‘assisting in the investigation’ and who would ‘keep us up to date with progress’. Four months later, we are now at the begininging of February 2015, the Office of the Ombudsman wrote to say that our request was ‘still under consideration’. 

Finally, two months later on 24 March (19 months after our original request), the Ombudsman sent us her report. It turns out that Creative NZ asks anyone who it deals with it to sign confidentiality agreements and the Ombudsman felt these agreements took priority over public access to information. Now you know. The Ombudsman asked us to comment before the final report was signed off which we did, arguing that using confidentiality agreements as a gagging device was not in the spirit of open government. This response still waits somewhere in the Ombudsman’s long, dark cave.

So there you go. By tactically using confidentiality agreements Creative NZ can block attempts by taxpayers to examine or assess its selection process, a process that involves the expenditure of $700,000 of public funds. And remember all that was requested was names not the discussion or deliberations that went toward the decision.

So should we just trust Creative NZ and its current processes to give us a fair result? Well no, not if the selection of Judy Millar/Francis Upritchard (additional representative added after the panel had made its decision) and Michael Parekowhai (no selection panel) are anything to go by. And is it reasonable to believe that the Official Information Act is designed to 'promote access to information held by various Government agencies'? No, it really isn’t.