Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Open Government: Were we wasting our time?

For the last month, Engage2 has been running a consultation exercise on New Zealand's second Open Government partnership national action plan. The consultation resulted in nearly 90 proposed commitments, and on Friday Engage2 held a co-creation workshop in Wellington in an effort to shape the action plan. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend, but there's a report on it here. Unfortunately, it includes some extremely disappointing statements from SSC:

In my introduction to the day, I proposed that the actions be prioritised by what was most ‘do-able’ and likely to be accepted by Ministers and Cabinet. Some Civil Society participants opposed this approach saying the Action Plan should be ambitious and public servants should be free to recommend what came out of the workshop, not just recommend what Ministers would find acceptable. In response, Al Morrison, a Deputy Commissioner from the State Services Commission, reminded participants that the Action Plan was the Government’s Plan and would only succeed if it consisted of commitments that were achievable over the next two years. They can be ambitious but need to be relevant to open government and have the support of agencies, and ultimately their Ministers.

There was a similarly disturbing report over Twitter:

Governments measure commitment in dollars, so this is basicly saying that the government has no commitment whatsoever to the OGP or improving transparency.

The good news is that there are some good, achievable, low-cost proposals - for example around proactive disclosure, OIA reform, lobbying regulation and whistleblower protection. But while they might not cost much, they would clearly require a commitment from SSC and Ministers to move towards a more transparent society. And given Morrison's statement and SSC's behaviour throughout this exercise - having a hidden agenda directly at odds with public expectations, wanting to do as little as possible, doing nothing to promote the consultation until it was too late - I really doubt that that is the case. The entire thing seems to be back in SSC's court now, and I have a nasty feeling we've been had, encouraged to waste our time (which could be productively spent elsewhere) on a meaningless "consultation" which will be effectively round-filed - just like our submissions on the consultation process were. And if that's the case, if SSC's action plan doesn't reflect the input from the public, then there's simply no point in participating further. Instead, we should campaign for New Zealand to be ejected from the OGP - because our government will have shown that it is not interested in meaningful participation.