Friday, May 09, 2014

A mockery of consultation

Last year the government announced that it would be joining the Open Government Partnership, an alliance of governments committed to increasing transparency. One of the requirements for membership is the development of an action plan setting out specific commitments as well as benchmarks so that progress can be assessed. The action plan is supposed to be developed by an open and participatory process with civil society. That's not just hot air; there are specific requirements (detailed here and here) governing the process. Failure to adhere to them could result in the action plan (and OGP membership) being rejected.

Last month, the State services Commission announced that it was beginning consultations on New Zealand's action plan and that they would be "consulting with stakeholders". I was curious what this consultation looked like, so I asked. The response was not encouraging. Rather than the open process required by the OGP, they approached only handpicked groups. As for the "consultation" itself,

Our consultation process involved two roundtable discussions as well as using an online decision-making platform called Loomio to collect feedback that will be used to formulate the Action Plan. The roundtable meetings took place on 14 and 17 April.

I am reliably informed that their Loomio forum was a wasteland, largely because SSC refused to try and facilitate or lead discussions there. Whether this complies with the OGP consultation requirements is left as an exercise for the reader.

As for the result, SSC had already decided going in that their action plan
will focus on the Better Public Services Results programme; the ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017 and the New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment.

These are lazy "goals", and as Transparency International points out, two of them are simply pre-existing commitments that the government was going to do anyway. But that's what Peter Dunne announced at the OGP Asia-Pacific Regional Conference in Bali. The "consultation" appears to have had no effect - and to have been specifically designed that way.

This is a mockery of a "consultation" process, and in violation of OGP's rules. We deserve to get spanked for it, and spanked hard. Because we've gone from being a leader in transparency to a foot-dragger, one which simply doesn't want to go any further.