Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Forcing transparency on Ministerial transport

One of the perks of being a government Minister is the Ministerial limo - a chauffeur-driven car you can take anywhere. These vehicles are publicly funded and used for public business, so we should be able to see who uses them and what for, right? But not according to the Department of Internal Affairs, who have spent three years unsuccessfully trying to keep the public in the dark about what our cars are used for:

The Government has lost a three-year fight to keep details of ministers' use of Crown limousines secret.

The Ombudsman has ordered the information be released and, barring a Cabinet-ordered veto, the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) is set to release details of thousands of trips by John Key and his ministerial colleagues in the fleet of taxpayer-funded luxury BMWs.

The recommendations of Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier, a former judge, are likely to mean details of future use will also have to be released. The information will be presented in the coming weeks without precise locations, for privacy and security reasons.

The case note hasn't made its way online yet, but according to the news article DIA had argued that the information was confidential, and even that the abuse of Ministerial limos for private business meant their travel details weren't "official information" at all. Fortunately the new Ombudsman was having none of it: these are public vehicles used for public purposes and so the information should be public. And as he points out, their abuse for non-public purposes strengthens the case for disclosure (just as it did for Ministerial expenses).

And as with Ministerial expenses, the release will force future proactive release, which in turn will act as a strong curb on Ministerial abuse. These cars are for public business, and Ministers will be forced to make sure that they are seen to be used that way. If Ministers want to nip down to the shops, or spend a night on the town, they can drive themselves, rather than forcing the public to pay for it.