Monday, May 09, 2016

What should be in NZ's OGP action plan II: Corruption and public integrity

The New Zealand government is currently consulting on how to consult people about its second Open Government Partnership action plan. But while they're wasting time, I'd rather think about the content: what commitments should we put in the action plan? I've already suggested some easy ones around freedom of information. Here's some suggestions around corruption and public integrity.

The New Zealand Government should establish a public register of company and trust beneficial ownership information. The registry should contain information about who ultimately owns and controls companies, trusts, and other legal entities.

This one ought to be an absolute no-brainer given the current scandal over the Panama Papers. The UK has already led the way with a commitment in its 2014 action plan, Australia is following suit, and it will be on the agenda at the London anti-corruption summit later this week. Beneficial ownership registers prevent criminals and the wealthy from hiding assets, dodging taxes, and collecting bribes in secret. And the more countries which have them, the fewer places these parasites will have to hide (and those can eventually be subjected to financial blockade, in the same way as was used to weaken bank secrecy in the 90's). For those who worry about privacy, companies come with advantages such as limited liability; public disclosure of ownership should be part of the social licence under which we grant those advantages.
The New Zealand Government should establish a public register of lobbyists and require disclosure of lobbying contacts.
Related to the above, people were quite surprised and horrified to see the amount of influence john Key's personal "lawyer" could exert just by waving his boss's name about. And how the Revenue Minister had been lobbied by the money laundering industry to preserve their illicit income stream. Its time for some sunshine in this area. And if we're looking for a keystone for our action plan, something big and transformative which could be a star reform, this would be it. And if we're looking for ideas on how to do it properly, Ireland - another OGP member - has recently implemented a regime as part of its action plan.
The New Zealand Government should review the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 with the aim of expanding and strengthening whistleblower protections and allowing disclosures to be made directly to MPs or media.

There is a general sense that our whistleblower protection laws are ineffective due to the requirements for whistleblower protection being too difficult to meet. This discourages people from disclosing suspected wrongdoing. Other regimes have much greater protection and a wider list of possible means of disclosure. We should be following their lead.

None of these ideas are original, but the PGP is partly about countries learning from each other. If we're not going to lead, the least we can do is follow.