10 July 2012
To New Zealand’s baby boomers today’s date resonates. Promotions for the introduction of decimal currency in 1967 were accompanied by a jingle about the “tenth of July, this year”. We now have two generations who are unlikely to recognise the meaning- or value – of a shilling, a florin or a half crown.
What surprised many at that time was the undramatic way in which substitution of notes and coins occurred. But that seems to be a common characteristic of humanity. We can adjust quickly and new ways can speedily become common place.
This is evident in the disclosure of State Services chief executives’ travel and hospitality expenses and declaration of gifts. Two years ago when the State Services Commissioner’s requirements were first published there was concern expressed by a number of those affected and great excitement by the media. The data was a fascination for weeks.
The disclosure regime is that the data for the preceding six months must be published on agency websites and on www.data.govt.nz every January and July. While the second tranche of disclosures received passing media interest, the third, in January this year proved to be wholly unnewsworthy.
Last week, agencies began posting the information for the last six months. The type of agencies showing on the website as having published promptly is noteworthy. Three District Health Boards, one Public Service department and one Independent Crown Entity published their chief executives’ data within the first few days of the reporting period. And there has been no media interest.
All of which is encouragement for the principle of transparency and open government. Disclosure is not an assurance of probity, but openness has a moderating effect. Resisting disclosure creates prurient interest in information. With publication that information can become mundane.