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Despite claims made by the coalition Government that it would be “the most open, most transparent Government that New Zealand has ever had,” ministers and officials have yet to answer questions asked late last year by Rural News under the Official Information Act (OIA) about operations at Landcorp.
Rural News put these questions following revelations last year that Landcorp (now called Pamu Farms) had made a secret submission to the Tax Working Group one month after submissions had closed. Landcorp was promoting – among other things – capital gains and environmental taxes on the agricultural sector. Rural News submitted a number of questions to the Government via the OIA regarding Landcorp and its taxpayer funded operations.
However, despite these questions being lodged on December 6 last year, and the legal requirement for OIA requests to be answered within 20 working days of lodgement, no answers have been received.
The original OIA request was sent on December 6, 2018 to the two ministers responsible for Landcorp -- Winston Peters and Shane Jones.
Peters’ office responded saying: “As your request relates to Landcorp/Pamu, for which Minister Shane Jones has associate ministerial responsibility, your request to the Office of Rt. Hon. Winston Peters is to be transferred to the Office of Hon. Jones”.
Jones’ office acknowledged receipt of the OIA request on December 6, but then kept radio silence until Jan 16, when Rural News requested an update.
Jones’ private secretary William Blacker replied that a response would be made by January 25 “…because the following days do not count when determining the deadline -- Christmas Day (12/25/2018), Boxing Day (12/26/2018), summer holiday (December 27 to January 15), new years day (1/1/2019) and January 2 (1/2/2019)”.
However, on January 25, Blacker – responding for Jones – conceded to Rural News they would not be able to meet the Jan 25 deadline.
“Unfortunately, it will not be possible to meet that time limit and we are therefore writing to notify you of an extension of the time to make our decision to 31/01/2019.
This extension is necessary because consultations necessary to make a decision on your request are such that a proper response cannot reasonably be made within the original time limit.”
Yet, later that day Blacker emailed to say: “Your request has been transferred to Landcorp Farming Ltd, as it is more closely connected with the functions of this agency. You will hear further from Landcorp Farming Ltd concerning your request.”
However, in a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, Landcorp had already contacted Rural News on January 16 to say: “We have received your OIA request today from the Office of Hon Shane Jones. We will respond to your request as soon as possible and no later than February 14, 2019 (as per the OIA 20 working day timeframe).”
Rural News now waits to see if the supposed ‘openness and transparency’ promised by the Government is causing red faces in the offices of the ministers and the state farmer as the February 14 deadline looms.