Download the Act: 2009 No.1 Official Information Amendment

Official Information Act Complaints

What is the Official Information Act?

When we’re talking about the OIA, we are referring to the Official Information Act which applies to Government Ministries, Crown Agencies, Island Councils and Ministers of the Crown.

The legislation allows people to request official information held by Ministers and specified central and local government agencies.  It contains rules for how such requests should be handled and provides for a right of complaint to the Ombudsman in certain situations.

Which Ministries are subject for the legislation?

The OIA applies to Ministers of the Crown and agencies listed in Schedule 1

These include:

  • Government ministries
  • Crown Agencies
  • Island Councils and Administrations
  • State-owned enterprises
  • Statutory Corporations

If you’re unsure whether an agency is subject to the official information legislation, contact us for assistance.

What is official information?

Official information is any information ‘held’ by a ministry subject to the OIA.  This includes:

  • documents, reports, memoranda, letters, emails and drafts
  • non-written information, such as video or tape recordings (official information has also been interpreted to include information which is known to an agency but has not yet been written down)
  • the reasons for any decisions that have been made about you
  • manuals which set out internal rules, principles, policies or guidelines for decision making
  • the agendas and minutes of meetings (including those not open to the public).

It’s important to note that information must be held, i.e. in existence, when it is requested.  There is no obligation under the legislation to create information in order to respond to a request.  The legislation is not a mechanism that can be used to force agencies to engage in debate or generate justifications or explanations in relation to a matter of interest to the requester.

Who can request official information?

To request information under that Act you must be:

  • a Cook Islander who is resident in the Cook Islands;
  • A permanent resident who is resident in the Cook Islands;
  • Any other natural person who is resident in the Cook Islands and has been a resident over 3 years (example – expatriates teachers resident over 3 years)
  • a body corporate wherever incorporated which has a place of business in the Cook Islands over 3 years.

Ministries are entitled to seek information from a requester in order to verify that they meet the qualification requirements of the OIA.

How to request official information

There’s no set form for making an official information request.  A request can be made orally or in writing, although writing is preferable because it means you have a record of your request, and everyone is on the same page about what information it is that you’re seeking.  You don’t have to refer to the OIA but again, it can help to ensure that your request is handled in accordance with the requirements of the legislation.

What should happen with your request for official information?

A ministry has to respond to your request for official information as soon as reasonably practicable and within 20 working days of receipt.   This time limit can be extended due to the volume of information or consultation required in order to reach a decision.

The basic principle of the legislation is that official information should be made available unless there’s a good reason for withholding it.  The legislation sets out the reasons that can justify the refusal of a request for official information.  The legislation also provides that agencies can impose a reasonable charge for supplying official information.   If your request is refused, the ministry should tell you why, and that you can complain to the Ombudsman.

What does the Ombudsman do?

If you do not receive a response to your request for official information within the statutory time limit, or you are unhappy with the response you receive, you can complain to the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s role is to ‘investigate and review’ the ministry’s decision (or lack of decision) on your request.  This includes looking at:

  • Refusals and deletions
  • Delays and extensions
  • Charges
  • The manner in which information is released
  • Conditions on release.

The Ombudsman does not receive requests for official information and is not subject to the official information legislation.  Requests must be made to the ministry that holds the information.

The Ombudsman does not release official information to requesters.  If information is to be released as a result of the Ombudsman’s enquiries, this will be done by the ministry itself, and not by the Ombudsman or his staff.

2009 No.1 Official Information Amendment