24 January 2012
State Services agency chief executives are required by the State Services Commissioner to disclose their expenses, gifts and hospitality twice annually. The returns for the July – December 2011 period are due for posting on websites by 31 January. As they are posted they appear on www.data.govt.nz. A number of agencies have already published this data.
One of the early returns is that by the Office of Film and Literature for the Chief Censor. The Chief Censor is unique in his openness. As in previous returns, he goes an extra mile in disclosing not only all hospitality accepted regardless of value; he lists invitations received but not accepted.
This complies with the general guidance given to State servants by the State Services Commissioner about the trustworthiness requirements of the code of conduct. “…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…”
However, the declaration template for chief executives requires only “accepted gifts and hospitality over $100” to be listed. This is an unfortunate practice as it implies that staff need do nothing more. The great value in the Chief Censor’s return is that it is an exemplar. Staff can see the type of gifts and hospitality that have not been accepted and perhaps should not be accepted, and those that are acceptable.
The 6 Trust Elements which underpin the code of conduct include the expectation that managers model required standards – that they walk the talk. Promoting integrity-rich behaviour in agencies is very difficult where there is one rule for the boss and another for their staff.
The willingness of the Chief Censor to go beyond the minimum is heartening. Perhaps his practice will be contagious.