Cash for questions: A New Zealand version, operated by the CAA

02 March 2015 / by the GAA team / Consultation, Costs, Governance

The Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand and the Ministry of Transport are dysfunctional. This article offers supporting evidence.

On 15 October 2010, Martin Jenkins – a New Zealand-based consulting firm providing strategic management support to clients in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors – received instructions from the CAA. They were engaged to prepare a Value for Money report on the CAA’s performance and to identify areas for improvement in costs and efficiency. The report was published on 28 February 2011.

In 2012, when the CAA sought opinions in its consultation procedure related to new charges and fees from 2013 to 2015, no mention was made of the Martin Jenkins Report.

The 2015 Consultation Document. In it, CAA Chariman Nigel Gould admitted that the previous round of price rises had been "not optimal". Yeah, right.

The 2015 Consultation Document. In it, CAA Chairman Nigel Gould admitted that the previous round of price rises had been “not optimal”. Yeah, right.

But in the consultation process for prices and fees for 2015-2018, the CAA stated that it had made improvements in effectiveness and efficiency. However, it again made no reference to the Martin Jenkins Report.

On 21 August 2014, the GAA asked the CAA, in a detailed request, to provide evidence of cost and efficiency improvements. The CAA had obviously made no improvements to its speed of response, because on 10 September 2014 (well beyond the 10-day CAA Service Charter terms to which it is committed) the CAA replied, stating that the questions asked would involve 40 hours of work at $76 per hour, with an “estimated” bill of $3040 plus GST. Would we kindly send a cheque for half that amount, payable in advance, with the final invoice to be calculated by the CAA?

$3500 is, of course, not affordable for an unfunded, not-for-profit social network that voluntarily works with and for GA pilots and others in the aviation community. And the CAA’s department looking after Official Information Act-based requests knows this.

The CAA claimed in its pricing review consultation document that it had made cost and efficiency savings. CAA chairman Nigel Gould stated:

“The previous review included an extensive examination of the value-for-money style of operation of the Authority, which resulted in significant changes to structure, expertise, and capability. In the intervening period, the Authority’s Board and management have gained high levels of confidence in the financial and operational process and improvements to the Authority’s effectiveness and efficiency have continued.”

Let us overlook Mr Gould’s unsubstantiated claim of “significant changes to structure, expertise, and capability”. What’s really important is that the Chairman says the CAA has continued to improve effectiveness and efficiency. So the CAA must know the details of these improvements (such as when they began, how they continued and what they actually consist of) – and therefore should not need to charge the GAA for researching what it already knows. But if it holds no evidence, the Authority was being less than honest with its customers and might even have led its own Chairman astray.

Either way, it is ludicrous for the CAA to expect the GAA to pay for the Authority to examine and report on itself.

We wrote to the Minister of Transport about this on 4 December 2014. On 8 December 2014, we received a reply from the Minister’s Private Secretary, in which it was stated:

The comments you have raised fall within the responsibilities of Hon Craig Foss, the Associate Minister of Transport. Accordingly, your email has been forwarded to his office for consideration.

More than two months later, Mr Foss still hadn’t replied – so we followed this up with another email to him and posted a website article describing the difficulty in obtaining a reply. Foss’s office immediately told us that it was not Mr Foss’s responsibility, and they had passed it back to Mr Bridges. Evidently there is considerable misunderstanding of portfolio responsibilities between the Minister and his Associate Minister. They were, furthermore, “very disappointed” by the GAA website article, but – interestingly – did not dispute its accuracy.

Less than 24 hours later, Mr Bridges’ office sent us a letter which included this:

You could contact the Civil Aviation Authority to determine what information may be available without charge. This may require you to refine the scope of your request.

Bridges made a good point: If the CAA wanted to charge the GAA more than $3000 to answer all the questions, why not ask them which questions they would answer for free?

So we took his advice. We simply asked the CAA which of our questions about cost savings and efficiency improvements could be answered without charge.

And this was the answer from Sue Holliday, Legal Administrator, on 25 February 2015:

We have received your letter of 23 February 2015 directed to Katy Stove and the Director of Civil Aviation requesting the answers to the questions in 15/OIR/30 the CAA will answer without enacting the provisions of Section 15(1)(a) of the Official Information Act 1982.

Your request is being considered in accordance with the Official Information Act 1982 and you can expect to receive a response as to whether the request is to be granted, and if so at what charge (if any), on or before 24 March 2015.


♦ Now we must wait yet another statutory period of one month for a definitive answer (and it will probably come no earlier, because our record shows that the CAA always adheres to this OIA deadline) and – incredibly –

The CAA will advise us if, and by how much, it may charge us for simply asking which of our original questions it would not charge for!

Folks, you couldn’t make it up.

The GAA challenges the CAA to disprove what we strongly suspect. That:

♦ The Authority is exploiting the OIA to delay responses for as long as legally possible, in order to wear down inquisitive customers, and

♦ The Authority is misusing its power in charging for answers, in order to deter serious investigation of its performance.

But what the CAA may have failed to grasp is the adage:

Persistence beats resistance.