Friday, February 14, 2014

Filling in the gaps on Cabinet conflicts of interest

Last year, in response to an OIA request I made back in 2010, DPMC decided to come clean and proactively release summary information on Cabinet Ministers' conflicts of interest. But there was a problem: the release only covered the period from October 2012 - September 2013. My previous OIA had forced release of information from June 2009 to July 2010, but there was a two year gap in the data. That gap has now been filled, and the documents are available on DocumentCloud, including statistical information on declared conflicts and how they were handled, and a summary of conflicts and action from July 2010 to September 2012. The core data:

  • The Cabinet Secretary was informed of a conflict of interest under paragraph 2.69 on 168 occasions between July 2010 and September 2012
  • 131 of these conflicts were sufficiently serious that the Prime Minister was advised of them in writing
  • Ministers declared a conflict during a meeting on 135 occasions during that period
  • Arrangements were made for Ministers not to receive papers on an issue on which they were conflicted on 8 occasions during that period
  • Ministerial decisions were transferred to other Ministers 42 times to avoid a conflict of interest
  • No Minister ever transferred a conflicted decision to a department
Note that conflicts can be very broad (such as an entire industry), or very narrow (such as a particular company). Some conflicts are also portfolio based e.g. for shareholding Ministers in SOEs. Sadly the information is vague, because the Cabinet Office believes all real details must be withheld so that Ministers declare such conflicts in future, but there's still some interesting stuff there, and enough to allow real journalists to do some digging if they want to. Craig Foss and Amy Adams declared extensive corporate conflicts. Anne Tolley declared a personal conflict of interest in a particular Ministry of Education property, and Paula Bennett did the same about an organization potentially eligible to receive crown funding. In both cases the decision was transferred, but it would be interesting to know the details and how the decision (if any) turned out.