Monday, December 10, 2018

A victory for transparency

This morning the government announced that it will be proactively releasing ministerial diaries from January next year:

Government ministers are trying to shake the image of shady politicians holding secret meetings by opening up their diaries.

The State Services Minister will announce today that for the first time all government ministers will publicly release details of their internal and external meetings from early next year.


The details released will include the date, start and finish time, a brief description, location, who the meeting was with and the ministerial portfolio involved.

It will all be published on the Beehive website within 15 business days of the end of each month.

There's some exceptions, including of course the hat game, so ministers can pretend they're meeting with people in a "personal" or "party" capacity rather than a ministerial one. I would hope that there's some external scrutiny on this, because there are strong incentives for politicians to lie to us to cover up their dodgier meetings. The presumption should be the same as for Ministers' information in general: that everything is official by default, and that not being a ministerial meeting is something that must be proved for each case.

One other gap is that the subject of the meeting is not automatically disclosed. Meeting topics are a significant target of OIA requests and parliamentary written questions, and the failure to disclose them will mean that those requests will have to continue (the way to force disclosure is for people to file regular, standardised OIA requests after each proactive disclosure seeking meeting topics, until they decide that it is just less work to include them in the first place).

But while there are holes, this is still a lot better than the status quo, and a victory for transparency. Now we just need to see if Ministers will follow the spirit of the thing, or try and circumvent it.