Auckland Transport withheld the erroneous information for 16 months
OPINION: Imagine you lost a sock at home. Which of the following would you do?
Would you like to ask someone else in your household where they might be, or sit in front of your laptop and Google “possible missing sock locations”?
I suspect Auckland Transport (AT) would make the latter, based on a comedy of errors that raises questions about its commitment to legal obligations for official information disclosure.
In November 2019, I heard about a once top-secret company within AT called Project Ridge, in which KiwiRail and Ports of Auckland explored the creation of a new joint entity taking greater control over the network. Auckland public rail.
* We must exercise our right to know what the government is doing
* The detail: why New Zealand needs a media freedom committee
* Auckland Transport rail plan spent two years trying to keep it a secret
Time, senior management and board members had moved on, and Project Ridge seemed like a historical oddity, but one that it would still be interesting to discover. So I asked AT for reports. He declined.
“Unable to provide the information you requested for reasons of confidentiality and commercial sensitivity,” he replied.
It seemed implausible, so I called in the ombudsman, an independent statutory office that ensures that public bodies meet their obligations to disclose information, except in certain circumstances.
In August 2020, an encouraging sign, the office wrote that Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier was investigating my complaint.
Another letter in mid-2021 – 16 months after my first request – described the progress, and was followed by an email from TA stating that he “seeks to change the original decision communicated to you”.
In July 2021, 170 pages of information arrived. The decision not to give details on the Ridge project was incorrect.
Unfortunately, it only takes a quick glance to realize that AT had identified and decided to withhold the wrong information for 16 months.
The main point was a presentation from 2016 to the AT Board of Directors, who – in very large print – said: “The Ridge Project proposal 2013 and 2014, did not progress as ‘one step too far'” .
Either way, AT’s search for material to meet my request was not old enough, stopping almost two years after Project Ridge was abandoned.
After writing to AT CEO Shane Ellison, the sad truth became clear.
The process of researching the Law on Official Information and Meetings of Local TA Authorities is largely mechanical.
Staff do not always ask relevant executives where to find a report. Instead, the agency’s risk and insurance team asks a computer to search for certain words.
Sadly, that search left out an old mail server, which shut down in March 2016. After resisting posting the wrong information, AT quickly searched, found, and posted the right information without delay.
In August 2021, he arrived. A business case conducted by consultants PWC, exploring a joint venture involving AT, KiwiRail and (reluctantly) Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency, as a first step towards a dedicated rail network and service operator in Auckland.
But even then, there was a lack of material. The business case would have been accompanied by AT’s own management assessment to its board of directors.
Back I went to AT. Short Story: The secrecy surrounding Project Ridge was such at the time that some of AT’s own documents were in the hands of a top-notch law firm, which now wanted thousands of dollars to search for them.
In the official letter explaining this, AT accidentally omitted the actual amount required.
RYAN ANDERSON & DAVID WHITE / STUFF
KiwiRail Chief Operating Officer Todd Moyle On The Big Track Replacement Program (June 2020 video)
I decided it was not worth the cost.
This is not the first failure of official AT information. In 2018, a request for reports on the development potential of park and ride sites had, according to AT, increased a volume of material so enormous that it was impossible to move forward.
Eventually, a handful of specific and comprehensive reports were found and published – reports that any number of executives could have gotten their hands on from the start.
In their last letter on the Project Ridge saga, Auckland Transport assured me that the server search was a one-time mistake.
“We are also not aware of any other requests requiring information until 2016, however, this case served as a reminder to be more vigilant for future requests. Once again our apologies for the time taken on your requests. ”
It was not mentioned if Auckland Transport was reviewing its entire approach to find official information, as it assured me in 2018 that was the case.