Monday, October 03, 2016

Open Government: A weak response

One of the four commitments in New Zealand's first OGP action plan was to formally respond to Transparency International New Zealand's 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment. Transparency International had assessed New Zealand's government and society to determine what needed to be done to combat corruption. They produced 58 detailed recommendations ranging from ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Corruption to strengthening the OIA and electoral transparency laws.

Last week, SSC quietly released its response to TINZ on their OGP website - with the usual zero publicity. It basicly boils down to a 16-page "yeah, nah". While they list programmes they were already undertaking as part of their response, on anything new - like strengthening the OIA, or that better electoral transparency regime, or constitutional protections for local government - their response is "no". In some areas, such as a public register of beneficial ownership information for companies and trusts to catch tax-cheats, they say that they're still reviewing the issue, but based on their public statements, this is simply a longer way of saying "no". In short, it looks like TINZ's work was a complete waste of time, at least as far as encouraging the current government to do anything is concerned.

As for the OGP commitment, while the government has clearly met the extremely low bar they set themselves, they've done it in a way which permanently devalues all such future commitments. Its clear that, from this government, a promise to "respond" to something means that in two years time we'll get 16 pages of spin and bullshit which will completely fail to meaningfully address the core concerns. Including such a "commitment" in an OGP action plan is no commitment at all.