Official Information Act - Scene One

Official Information Act - Scene One

On Tender

Someone asked me the other day what my opinions were on the Kim Dotcom saga. “Don’t get me started on that subject,” I replied. And two hours later I was sitting outside this person’s toilet talking to them through the door as they tried to get to grips with all the underlying implications of this sorry affair.

Let’s just paraphrase it for the requirement of space in this column and quickly get to the point.

John Key desperately emails the Oval Office for the 105th time begging for some face time with the mighty Obama. “I don’t even want to talk about anything, I just want a picture with Mr President before they vote me out of office.”

Finally the Egg Shaped Place discusses our leader’s cringe worthy request.

“What do we need from these Kiwis?”

“Nuclear bases.”

“Apart from nuclear bases?”

“Er... Let me think... Get him to roust up some copyright pirates so I can wedge some more campaign finances out of Hollywood.”

“Yes sir,” says Key. “And we’ll make it look good too... helicopter gunships and the full SWAT team. It’ll scare the crap out of those software pirates for years to come.”

“Is that legal? Will we win the case in court?”

“Doesn’t matter, the message will already be clear. No more pirating on our turf.”

Kim Dotcom is of course a scapegoat and his company Megaupload is no more party to the knowing infringement of copyright than any other ISP in the land or indeed the planet.

Prior to the current “three strikes” rule, even after a customer admitted that they had been watching movies on TV Shack or downloading Torrent files, an ISP has never offered to pay a cent of all those charges that people rack up when they’re busting their data caps by downloading music and movies back to the owners of the copyright.

The reason I bring up Mr Blobby is that half of that case is now hidden behind a wall of secrecy. Many of the documents relating to Jabba the Hutt are locked tight and not even accessible by countless demands from media under the Official Information Act. Which dovetails nicely into the entire point of my musings on this issue.

The Official information Act is there to allow us, the people, (the power behind our democratic government) to gain access to information that our elected representatives have somehow decided not to let us know about. It is one of the most vital tools that we have in the structure of our society and should be protected with sharpened sword if necessary.

Requesting information from the government under the umbrella of the Official Information Act is not a hard thing do. It’s a hard thing to achieve to its ends but it’s not a hard thing to enact. Simply write or ring the department involved and request the info you require and say that you want to lodge the request under the Official Information Act. All you have to do then is put it in writing to the correct department. I’ll leave that for you to find out... Coughs (Internal Affairs).

Resellers may often find the need for information held by the government useful when submitting tenders and other business proposals. Sometimes if you only knew who had a certain contract or how much was spent on a previous contract, it could make all the difference. However be warned, these things take many weeks, which is most often way outside any deadlines enforced by tender response. Best idea is to sow your seeds much like a farmer. Information in the tender game is power and information gathered over periods of months and even years can turn to a golden harvest given the right growing conditions.

The Law Commission is currently proposing extending the powers of the OIA. Law Commission professor John Burrows says the Act should now apply to any publicly funded entity. It means we should be able to get info on IT contracts with any government department. But don’t hold your breath. Even though OIA requests are supposed to be fulfilled within 20 working days they have taken up to 700 working hours to complete. We mustn’t be put off by this. It’s our information they’re holding back and it’s our taxes that they’re hiding behind. All we have to do now is support the changes, present some OIA for fun and get those Swiss Army knives out in readiness to pry out some official government business. Happy digging.

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