State Sector Act reform: having our say

TINZ CEO, Julie Haggie

Julie Haggie

TINZ Chief Executive Officer

Time for change

The State Services Commission has run a short consultation on proposed changes to the 30-year old State Sector Act. This Act is based on a model of single department delivery from one Chief Executive to a single Minister, with strong lines of vertical accountability.

The government is seeking more collective, inter-agencies action, and greater accessibility to, and citizen focus of, public services. It aims to strengthen the quality and leadership of the public service while enabling much more cross-agency work and accountability. It also heralds a stronger ethic of public service.

In practice this could mean an Executive Board of Chief Executives, and greater enablement for joint ventures and ‘one-stop shops’. There is also a desire to ensure the purpose, principles and values of the Public Service are embedded within the legislation.

Observations and recommendations

Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) is broadly supportive of the changes, but has suggested more work is needed to clarify problems and options. We noted that an enlarged scope plus increased collaboration and agility across the public sector, will result in a worrying shift in power. This will increase risks in areas such as efficiency, effectiveness, public engagement, management of conflicts, transparency and accountability. These risks must be identified and mitigated. Along with the Institute of Internal Auditors, TINZ encouraged much greater use of independent evaluation and internal audit. This would be useful where decision-making around regulatory change is being shifted to groups of senior leaders, to support more transparency around the impact of regulatory changes.

TINZ’s submission refers often to the Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) including its recommendations around:

  • strengthening of integrity and accountability systems in public sector entity operations
  • reporting and monitoring of misconduct and breaches of integrity
  • regular integrity and conduct surveys
  • best practice options in fulfilling Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations
  • increased activity to deepen reporting of tax expenditure
  • deepen public debate about fiscal policy.

The changes currently proposed in the State Sector Act Reform consultation provide for a general improvement in integrity and transparency, but TINZ considers these need to be more specifically identified.

TINZ also seeks more visibility and accessibility for the public and greater ethical competency in relation to public finance, and data integrity, including the use of personal data.

Documentation

All submissions including the TINZ submission will be published on the State Services Commission website in the near future. Refer also to background press releases from Minister of State Services, Hon Chris Hipkins.