Opinion: Go ahead, complain- you may grow old waiting

Peter Boshier
Peter Boshier

Former Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier inherited a dinosaur when he took over the Office of the Ombudsman last year.

A slow-moving emaciated herbivore, which for years has struggled to tear away at the layers of those monstrous public agencies it’s supposed to investigate.

I should know.

I complained to the Office of the Ombudsman in December 2013 following my investigation into the self-proclaimed Roastbusters of West Auckland.

I did so out of sheer frustration with the NZ Police.

I felt stonewalled by Police National Headquarters after asking very specific Official Information Act questions relating to treatment of the victims, the interview process, and the collection of evidence.

In many cases I knew the answers, I just wanted Police to share their perspective.

When they chose not to “for privacy reasons” I’d hoped the Office of the Ombudsman would get those answers that democracy had failed to deliver.

Two and a half years on, dozens of phone calls and emails later, my file at the Office of the Ombudsman has been through up to four case managers and still I have no resolution.

This week the affable, apologetic Chief Ombudsman himself has waded in.

Judge Peter Boshier admits to being red-faced. “So many files like yours have me in a dark space.”

Mine is one of 650 backlogged cases that are more than a year old. “Staff movements have had a nightmarish effect on your file,” he says. The oldest complaint his staff are investigating is against the Minister of Health. It’s almost six years since it was filed.

It’s no secret once that backlog is cleared “this time next year”, his aim is to have 70 percent of all complaints to the Ombudsman resolved within three months.

Yes, this is a man who wants results. And so he should. His Office is supposed to “guard the guardians” but the report card’s looking pretty damning.   

Figures released to Newshub suggest staff turnover has been, until recently, a problem for the Office whose principal duty is to investigate complaints about public agencies such as Corrections, Councils, Inland Revenue and the Earthquake Commission to name a few.

In the 2014-2015 financial year prior to Boshier’s arrival staff turnover was 21%, up from 10% the year before.

Thursday’s Budget will likely confirm a $2.6 million dollar funding boost which’ll go in part he says to setting up a team to tackle the backlog. A beaverish group of investigators who’ll barely see the light of day for the next year if they’re to address the 1717 complaints against public agencies currently being investigated.

“This figure was 2000 in January” he adds, “but it’s sticky cases like yours that are causing embarrassment.”

My complaint about the NZ Police and their refusal to answer questions regarding the Roastbusters investigation is not unique.

Latest figures show the NZ Police top the list of agencies most likely to have a complaint against them closed and upheld. Corrections and the Ministry of Social Development feature next, ahead of Auckland Council.

Opinion: Go ahead, complain- you may grow old waiting

Judge Boshier is refreshingly frank and effervescent with good intent.

“I hope when we have this conversation in a year I’d like to think we’ll be like a footy team- just going through a bad patch and coming out the other side.”

I want to believe him. But the clock is ticking.