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October 16, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Salient and VUW tussle over Official Information Act requests

VUW has failed to respond within the legally required timeframe to multiple Official Information Act (OIA) requests lodged by Salient this year.

The OIA provides that the information held by universities shall be made available upon request, unless there is good reason for withholding it. These reasons include commercial sensitivity, privacy of individuals, and if the information would require substantial resources to collate. There is an obligation to provide requested information within 20 working days.

Salient made nine requests for information to VUW under the OIA in 2017. Of the eight requests that had been processed at the time of print, four were responded to within 20 working days.

One request, sent on March 24, was responded to within 21 days.

Another request, about complaints to Student Health and Counselling, was sent on April 18 but was not responded to after 20 days. Salient sent an email on May 17, the day the response was due, requesting the information by 11.30am on May 18 because of the magazine’s print deadline. An apology email was received, but the information was not provided until 1.43pm on May 18, after the magazine had gone to print.

Other requests have been met with further complications and delays.

On August 9 an OIA request for information regarding allergies at VUW was sent. Salient followed up with VUW on September 7 after receiving no response. However, VUW denied receiving the request on August 9, and treated the second email as a “new” request. A response was received on September 20, 30 days after the original request had been sent, though nine days after VUW received the “new” request.

On August 8 Salient made a request to VUW via the communications team, seeking clarification and further information about an earlier OIA request. The earlier request, regarding the VUW Student Services Levy, was responded to within the required timeframe on July 19.

No response was received to the August 8 request within the 20 day period. Salient followed up on this overdue OIA request on three occasions, and was met with VUW’s assurance that they were “working on” the response.

After the fourth email was sent by Salient asking for the information, Salient was told that the staff member able to provide the information was away, but would be returning on October 2.

When Salient had not received the information on October 3, VUW’s legal team was contacted to communicate that a complaint under section 28 of the OIA would be pursued. This provides that, if an agency has failed to make and communicate its decision on a request “as soon as reasonably practicable,” a complaint may be lodged with the Ombudsman to investigate the enquiry.

VUW declared that it “was not aware” of this “expectation” that the request of August 8 be treated as an OIA request — despite the request being lodged to the OIA email address, and in relation to a previous OIA request. In all correspondence Salient referred to the question as “an OIA request.” Following this exchange, a response was received on October 9 — 24 days overdue, and 44 days after the request was received by VUW.

When asked about the multiple delays, VUW General Counsel Simon Johnson said, “it is totally incorrect to say there have been multiple instances of OIA requests from Salient not being provided within the standard 20 working day timeframe this year.”

“There was only one instance where a response was not provided within 20 working days. On that one occasion, the reason for the delay was explained to Salient and the response was provided the following day.”

“Our OIA processes are robust and effective and I am proud of the team for diligently receiving and responding to a large number of OIA requests.”

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