Trust, transparency and values during COVID-19 recovery

John Hall

TINZ Director

Civics & Human Rights

Like many people, I have been pleasantly surprised by the manner in which parts of our government have attempted full and frank disclosure of the COVID-19 situation to the public.

This has been a struggle dictated by public knowledge. In many ways our continuing ability to beat both the public health and economic aspects of this crisis are predicated on ensuring the public understands the risks and mitigation strategies.

As we move past the epidemic and into recovery, there is an ongoing need for legislative and policy innovation. We just don’t want to forget our values in the excitement of doing new things.

Recovery requires trust and transparency

Yet, often as a country we handle crises but fail in handling recovery. Recovery from this particular crisis is an economic challenge of significant proportions.

The public is very far from understanding how the government has suddenly found enough money to finance all the aid it is distributing. That is to say: nothing of understanding what the limits to that liquidity are, how private spending impacts it, or what factors need to be taken into account in forming an opinion on how that money might be best spent.

These considerations are what we entrust politicians and bureaucrats to understand and evaluate. A great deal of complex and, at times, privledged information will be weighed up to find the right balance. This is the very reason society needs to choose the few representatives it can trust.

We also need our public servants to explain why and to justify our trust. This will require an explanation of the basic concepts that lie behind economic considerations.

Maintain our values

This is a time where we also need to ensure that the economic resources that previous generations have worked hard to build, are properly protected.

One example is the likelihood that areas of private enterprise will need to come under greater public control as they depend on public money to recover from the COVID crisis. In this situation, it is important to ensure that such enterprises also remain open to private investment through public listing so that they can become self-sustaining again in the future.

This is also a time when we can explore new ways of encouraging economic transparency. For example, this crisis has exposed firms that have taken advantage of our corporate legislation to employ workers in New Zealand through NZ companies that did not own the capital necessary to be considered solvent.

We can be bold now, but we need to keep our nerve and our values.

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