30 July 2012

State services chief executives have to publish a return on their agency website of their expenses, gifts and hospitality for the six month period to 30 June 2012 by tomorrow. The collated record is published on http://www.data.govt.nz although that site has not yet created a file for 2012 datasets. Disclosure details for about 70 agencies for the period are currently jumbled among the returns for the previous period . None seems to have generated any media interest so far.

Disclosing expenses is a simple modelling exercise.  It manifests transparency and the openness standard that should be expected of any expenditure of public money. When the State Services Commissioner first set this expectation, the rationale was that it was an integrity obligation. There was some debate about its relevance and necessity. 

The practice of disclosure illustrates three of the “6 Trust Elements” underpinning the State Services Standards of Integrity and Conduct – the importance of having standards, integrating the standards into operations, and managers modelling them.

The statutory relationship between the Commissioner and Public Service chief executives means that this type of information must be provided when required.  The Better Public Services Cabinet Paper (Paper 6) on changes to the State Sector Act recommends that there should also be statutory clarity about the duty of other parts of the State Services to do likewise. Rather than relying on the Commissioner’s implicit authority relating to code of conduct powers, the intention is to amend the State Sector Act to extend the information disclosure provision to all agencies in the State Services

The Cabinet paper noted that “…while agencies generally co-operate in supplying information, the existence of this power would overcome potential reluctance on the part of an agency to supply relevant information. For example, the Commissioner’s oversight of, and reporting on the government’s ‘capping policy’ would benefit from the potential application of this power. The same applies to the Commissioner’s requests for information relating to disclosures of gifts and benefits received by Crown entity chief executives, as well as other information relating to the Commissioner’s mandate on matters of integrity and conduct. …”