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Murray Petrie is a consultant on public management to NZ government departments and International Financial Institutions. Murray is an active member of the IMF's Panel of Fiscal Experts, and has worked on financial management reform and fiscal transparency in over 20 countries. He is a founding member of TINZ and formar Co-chair.
by Murray Petrie
On 31 October NZ formally became a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), with the publication of New Zealand’s first OGP National Action Plan (NAP). The OGP was established in 2011 as an international partnership of countries aiming to foster openness, transparency and accountability to their citizens. From the founding eight countries it has grown rapidly to 65 countries. Members are required to submit an Action Plan every two years, prepared in collaboration with civil society, and to have implementation of each Plan independently reviewed.
In addition to releasing NZ’s NAP (which contains an Appendix detailing NZ stakeholder feedback and criticism of the draft Plan), the government also released the Cabinet Paper together with comments on the draft NAP from the OGP Support Unit.
While this represents good practice in terms of the openness of some aspects of the process, unfortunately the Action Plan itself contains only four commitments.
On this NZ compares very unfavourably with other OGP members. The average number of commitments in the first 41 was 22 with a median of 19 commitments. While what constitutes a commitment varies quite widely across NAPs, there is no doubt that, in terms of the number of commitments, New Zealand’s Action Plan is, at the moment, seriously lacking in ambition.
Furthermore, two of the commitments are pre-existing, on-going initiatives: Result 10 of the Better Public Service (BPS) Results programme (the public can easily complete their transactions with government in a digital environment), and the ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017. As noted by the OGP Support Unit, without more specificity on the activities, products, and timelines of these on-going commitments it will be very hard to evaluate whether any progress has been made.
The third commitment is more interesting and potentially ambitious - to consider and respond to TINZ’s 2013 National Integrity System (NIS) Assessment report. It is certainly pleasing that this has been included as a commitment. The government has indicated it will make initial decisions with respect to the NIS recommendations by end-February 2015, and will also work with TINZ and other stakeholders over the next two years as the Action Plan develops over time.
There are some NIS recommendations that the government should move quickly to add to the Action Plan at the end of February. These include the introduction of a National Anti-Corruption Strategy; systematic pro-active release of official information and the promotion of enhanced compliance with the Official Information Act; and commitments to the regular publication of technically independent national environmental and social reporting, and increasing transparency of public procurement.
The fourth commitment - to review the Kia Tūtahi Relationship Accord - was added to the Plan following public consultation on the initial draft, in which civil society representatives argued for a new government-wide framework for timely consultation and direct public participation in policy development and implementation. Countries such as the UK and USA have included commitments in their Action Plans to strengthen public consultation and participation practices.
On a longer time frame, there are some NIS recommendations that address fundamental and serious weaknesses, and that should be considered for inclusion in New Zealand’s second Action Plan - such as extending coverage of the Official Information Act to the administration of Parliament, and increasing the transparency of political party funding.
In terms of the process from here, the government has indicated that a stakeholder-led advisory group will be established to assist the Government with meeting OGP commitments.
Two points are worth highlighting here. It is important that the government does not just appoint an advisory group. Civil society needs to discuss and determine how it wishes to organise itself with respect to this process. Consistent with the ground rules and the DNA of the OGP – which is all about partnership - the advisory group needs to be established on the basis of collaborative engagement and deliberation.
Secondly, given the very wide scope of the recommendations in the NIS, one stakeholder group is likely to be insufficient to enable genuine engagement between the many official entities involved and the various NGOs, business groups, academics, journalists and so on, with a legitimate interest and valuable contributions to make. A structure with a high-level steering group, underpinned by a number of technical working groups is worth considering.