The MoT ‘issues’ hotline: An offer you might prefer to refuse

10 September 2019 / by the GAA team / GA in general, Governance, News, Privacy

The MoT can’t keep a secret. They could get you into another fine mess, as Stan and Ollie might say…

Some cautionary words about the Ministry of Transport’s “issues” hotline, claimed as a way for people to provide feedback on the performance and culture of the regulators it oversees:

Don’t bank on anonymity.

The ministry acknowledges that confidence in New Zealand’s civil aviation system “underpins the substantial social and economic contribution made by the aviation sector”, and we were encouraged when the MoT said it intended to take client information as insight to inform ongoing monitoring of the CAA.

This sounded too good to be true, even though it showed signs of an enlightened approach by the ministry in responding to the public exposure of harassment, bullying and generally arrogant and vindictive behaviour claimed to be exhibited by some CAA managers.

And it was too good to be true.

A person, who wished to use this conduit to tell his story, contacted the GAA. The conditions that he wanted from the MoT were not unreasonable: total confidentiality.

As an operator with ongoing interactions with the CAA, he feared – quite rightly, we’re sure – that he might be made a marked man. There is simply too much anecdotal (though unverifiable) evidence that when people in the CAA identify someone as troublesome, client requests can subtly be placed at the bottom of the pile, files may go missing, an application can be delayed pending requests for “further information”, and so on.

The GAA tried to obtain undertakings from the MoT about the safeguards which should be in place to protect informants’ identities, if they wished to comment on the CAA.

What emerged from our correspondence with the MoT is that it is so constrained as to be incapable of promising anonymity to informants.

In a message bursting with obfuspeak, The Manager, Governance and Commercial, told us that the ministry, in fulfilling its role as monitoring agency over other entities, has obligations to consider information provided to it and, where appropriate, take action to address concerns or issues. Depending on the nature and significance of the concerns or issues, it may be necessary for the Ministry to work through some matters directly with an entity we monitor in order to address the concerns or issues.

All information provided to the Ministry is subject to the Official Information Act. Any request to the Ministry for information would be considered under the provisions of that Act. I note under the OIA that agencies may withhold information if it is necessary to, under section 9(2)(ba), protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence. But that this must be balanced against the public interest, which may require the information to be released. (Our emphasis)

The Ministry’s issues inbox is restricted to and monitored by a small group of managers within the Ministry including the Chief Legal Officer, Manager of Governance and Commercial, and Manager, Regulatory Policy who undertake an assessment of each issue and will correspond directly with the person to agree a way forward if required.

In other, plainer, words: they cannot and may not protect your identity.

It’s your call to trust MoT staff to respect your confidentiality and redact your communication in such a way that it will be de-identified if they take up your concerns with the CAA.

So, if you are content to potentially have your rights to confidentiality waived by the MoT and wish to lay a complaint, the mailbox address is issues [at] transport [dot] govt [dot] nz

Please form an orderly queue…