A Comment About Open Government by Laurence Millar

OGP – Opaque Government Programme?

One of the final acts of this Parliament was to pass the Public Service Act which has been described by the Minister, Hon Chris Hipkins, as the most significant change in the public service in 30 years. The Act defines five public service principles:

  • Politically neutral
  • Free and frank advice
  • Merit-based appointments
  • Open government and
  • Stewardship.

This article is focussed on the fourth principle “to foster a culture of open government”.

It is fitting that this legislation is sponsored by the Minister of State Services, because his agency (Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission – previously the State Services Commission) has been responsible for leadership of open government for the last seven years.

So what is the current state of Open Government in New Zealand?

Progress towards more open government is managed through a two year national action plan (NAP). New Zealand joined the global Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2013 and is currently nearing the end of its third national action plan, NAP3.

The government started development on NAP4 in early 2020, but progress was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. A decision, supported by the global OGP, was taken to delay the timeline for NAP4 by a year so that it will be published in mid-2021.

NAP3 contains twelve commitments with 53 milestones, all of which were scheduled for completion before June 2020. What has been achieved? Sadly, the most recent report only covers progress to December 2019, so it is difficult to make an assessment.

What is going to happen for the next year, until NAP4 is finalised? Sadly, the most recent report on the work of the Expert Advisory Panel and the Officials Group is from February 2020.

TINZ has been working closely with managing the teams working on individual NAP3 commitments. Keitha Booth, the Independent Researcher for New Zealand’s OGP, has suggested new milestones for the next 12 months to maintain momentum. These need action.

We appreciate that this year has been challenging for government officials with the pressures of responding to the pandemic. However, it is disappointing that the leadership of the New Zealand open government effort has not published any information on the programme for the last six months.

Now that the Public Service Act has been enacted, it’s time that the Public Service Commission is well placed to demonstrate its commitment to NAP3 at the highest level. In addition, the five principles of the Act support specifying NAP4 commitments using engagement tools with strong penetration across New Zealand, to gain the public’s views about the public services they want to see improved.

This article was originally published in the Transparency Times, August 2020.