On the 26th February, 2015 an article appeared in Stuff entitled “Cera plans to shred quake documents” (see http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/66668462/Cera-plans-to-shred-quake-documents). Here’s a sample of that article:
“Thousands of Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) documents will be destroyed after the agency is disestablished.
Cera has drawn up a plan for retaining and destroying documents when its five-year lifespan ends in April 2016, detailing which ones will be kept and which are bound for the shredder.
The plan, notified by Archives New Zealand last week and pending its approval, will see strategic documents, such as reports and records of ministerial meetings, policy documents and correspondence, archived and many “administrative” records dispensed with. Some will be transferred to other government agencies or local authorities.
“As Cera was created in response to the Canterbury earthquake events, the public records it creates provide a unique record of the response and recovery efforts,” Archives New Zealand chief archivist Marilyn Little said.
Paperwork from Official Information Act requests (OIAs) will be kept for the statutory seven years, but the authority rejected a suggestion from the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ) to hold on to it longer, saying if documents were “really important” they would be archived elsewhere.”
I thought we were now part of the digital age??? Paper documents??? Why is the shredding necessary???
Public documents in this country belong to the public, not to clerks or bureaucrats or anyone else who thinks they have the right to withhold them or destroy them. Records should be kept as long as there is an actual business or legislative need for them, even if this is beyond the retention period. And though it is said to be in the best interests of the agency to dispose of records that no longer serve a business/legislative requirement once the retention period is up, this fails to take into account the public interest perspective. The law states that retention periods may be permissive, meaning that they give one permission to destroy records at any point after the expiry periods have passed but you may also keep records after they are approved for destruction.
Every citizen has the right to make public requests for information held by public bodies and by law they have to respond – CERA is no exception. Tomorrow I may request a particular set of documents – it is not OK that yesterday those very documents were destroyed. CERA was created as part of a process of the Earthquake recovery and has been given extraordinary powers (usually only available in wartime). The opportunity to abuse those powers is great. The recovery process is far from over (despite CERA disbanding) and therefore I would argue that there is a high level of public interest need and right for all documents associated with the creation and operation of CERA to remain accessible to the public for the foreseeable future. There are still people researching and writing about the events that have transpired – it is simply too early to wipe the slate clean. CERA has extraordinary powers, the sort of powers available only in wartime in a proper democracy. There are still those affected by CERA’s ‘bullying and coercion’ who are or may in the future bring legal proceedings against CERA and consequently it remains imperative that all documentation related to the organization remains accessible.
Much of what has gone on in Christchurch in the way of decision making and policy creation still requires unpicking and consequently I would argue there is a high degree of public interest in ensuring that all information relating to CERA remains open for public scrutiny. Databases can contain public records that are managed in accordance with normal, prudent business practices. In addition email messages and their attachments are like any other corporate record and are subject to the Public Records Act. It is not as though they take up copious amounts of space in this modern technological environment.
Here is the link to information requests already made of CERA https://www.fyi.org.nz/body/cera – it may be time to add several more.
The Stuff article makes mention of the plan being open for public comment until March 22. Contact Details are
Phone: Estelle Leppan (Team Administrator): 04 496 1393
Post: Disposal and Acquisition Team
Archives New Zealand
P O Box 12050
“At the completion of the 30 day comment period, your comments and any others
that have been received will be assessed by the Disposal and Acquisition
Team. If the comments are assessed to have a significant impact on the
Intention to Dispose, then the Disposal and Acquisition Team will return the
appraisal documentation to the agency with a summary and analysis of the
comments received, and any recommendations.
If the comments are assessed to have little or no impact on the Intention to
Dispose, then the Disposal and Acquisition Team will submit the appraisal
documentation, with a summary and analysis of the comments received and
changes made (if any), to the Chief Archivist for his consideration before
signing the Disposal Authority.
In cases where an Intention to Dispose receives little or no public comment,
this process should take approximately one week. Where an appraisal
report/and schedule is returned to the agency, the approval time will vary.“
Other People’s thoughts:
” I am also very concerned.
The CERA act was set up during NZ’s first ever State of National Emergency following a natural disaster. It has wide ranging decision making powers. Therefore the material should be available;
1. For future historical and academic analysis
2. To ensure accountability of public decision making in those aspects of the recovery that cause future harm (flooding, land grab, forced relocations, inadequate repairs). Many of these issues will not come to light for the foreseeable future. As was the case with the Leaky building debacle.
3. For future human rights claims against the Government. Typically, formulating and progressing these claims lag behind end of wars and state of emergencies by quite a number of years.
4. Because in many respects democracy has been suspended (ECAN, confidential administrative decisions by cabinet, private briefings with leading business leaders, suspension of the certain roles / functions of the CCC).
I would also challenge the rationale for this decision, its comparison with existing practice by Government departments, and finally, the impact of not destroying this material – Is the content that bad?
In short, this decision strikes at the heart of democracy and needs to be challenged.
For more information on documentation storage see Archives New Zealand http://archives.govt.nz/advice/ask-question