15 June 2011

The State Services Commissioner has written to agency chief executives reminding them to publish, by the end of July,  travel and hospitality expenses and gifts they have received, during the last six months.  This will be the second set of disclosures.  Last year the Commissioner adopted bits of disclosure processes in jurisdictions with which New Zealand likes to be compared.

Interestingly, New Zealand only requires publication of chief executive expenses.  By comparison, Canada, US and the UK  require disclosures by all senior officials.  The Canadian proactive disclosure regime  appears to be the most transparent.  Their Treasury Board website contains the quarterly disclosures of more than 120 agencies; not only the travel and hospitality expenses of senior officials but also contracts exceeding $10,000, grants and contributions of more than $25,000 and any “whistleblower” investigations.  Cumulative records of these disclosures remain on the website – long after officials have moved elsewhere. This process, put in place in 2004, gives rise to very little media attention, possibly because of the cautious spending evidenced by the disclosures.

Since 2009, the British Cabinet Office has published the business expenses that their senior officials must disclose every 3 months.  The US Office of Government Ethics also publishes the disclosure returns of officials from hundreds of agencies although that data is not as readily found as the British and Canadian compilations.

New Zealand agencies are expected to maintain accessible registers of gifts and hospitality. All staff receiving benefits  derived from sources other their employer should ensure they disclose those benefits and record them in their agency registers. The guidance in Understanding the Code of Conduct is;

“…There will usually be perceptions of influence or personal benefit if we accept gifts, hospitality or ‘quid pro quo’ exchanges of favours. We must not seek or accept favours from anyone, or on behalf of anyone, who could benefit from influencing us or our organisation. Organisations’ policies on accepting gifts and hospitality vary, depending on their business. In all cases, it is expected that gifts will only be accepted following a transparent process of declaration and registration. To avoid misperceptions, it is essential that the process is public. ..”