Labour MP Hon Shane Jones has had a Member’s Bill drawn in the ballot. The Bill will authorise the Ombudsmen to recover costs from an agency that is subject to a complaint, and will include local government as well as central government.
The Ombudsmen must issue guidelines, and presumably where a complaint is not well founded, costs will not be recovered.
The new regime would apply to costs of investigating complaints about refusals to disclose information under the OIA or LGOIMA, as well as complaints under the Ombudsmen Act.
"Own motion" investigations would not be subject to cost recovery; but cost recovery might free up funding to allow more to be completed (recently all have related to the Department of Corrections).
Crown Law charges for the advice it provides, but generally the public service finance provisions make it difficult for one agency to charge another for services when each is performing its statutory role. The Auditor General charges for audits, but does not charge for the investigation of complaints.
Of course, the Ombudsmen should not be incentivised to over-resource investigations, but their backlogs are so large that it is unlikely. Further funding should be welcomed by the public, and Mr Jones' proposal might encourage those recidivist agencies in central and local government to improve their performance, or at least their dealings with the Ombudsmen.
A more likely issue for the Ombudsmen will be ensuring that their direct Parliamentary funding is not reduced by the amounts they are likely to receive from agencies.
Mr Jones' Bill has not had its First Reading yet, so we do not know whether it will make it to the Select Committee, or beyond.
If it does, then hopefully these issues will be addressed; if the Bill passes, it must be effective.