14 June 2011

Good government requires an informed electorate.  That requires a commitment by Ministers to making information available to the media, responding to disclosure requests and valuing transparency. Of course knowledge is power.  As power is the aspiration of politicians, there is an inherent reluctance to be too open.

Sunshine movements in many jurisdictions seek not only to increase the accessibility of public information but to promote the use of that information for community well being. As a generalisation, politicians seem predisposed to use public money to acquire and maintain power. Various checks and balances are meant to protect the public interest. Many media stories are about the inadequacy of these measures.

The final report of the retiring Canadian Auditor General is an illustration.  The last Federal government, elected on a platform to strengthen governance, is criticised for misleading Parliament about money voted for G8-G20 conferences, with only $664 million of a $1.1 bn vote spent as proposed. The Auditor General’s criticisms give some credence to Opposition parties’ pork barrel accusations..

Over the last few days there has been a focus on tactics by New Zealand political parties to use both Parliamentary Services funding and that agency’s officials (who are required to be non political in their duties) for party political purposes.

And there is a growing concern about the extent of self interest that may have minimised the regulation of  lobbying. One right wing blogger applauds Australian controls compared with New Zealand “where politi­cians move to a ‘gov­ern­ment rela­tions’ or ‘com­mu­ni­ca­tions’ firm and then sell access to their old con­tacts. One for­mer senior National MP boasted about hav­ing all but two of cab­i­net to a party at his firm.”

Greater awareness of the business of government, and the accessibility and reuse of information is how the democratic process can be strengthened.  Encouragement for accessing and reusing government information has motivated the The Open Government Data Day in Wellington on 22 June.  This event – on the eve of UN Public Service Day – is a positive contribution by Open NZ and GOVIS to broadening the understanding, not of what should be done with information, but how to do it.

Attendance is gratis – and there is still opportunity to register to take part.