7 August 2012 

Two views of the New Zealand public sector were aired yesterday.  

Sir Kenneth Keith on a home visit from the International Court of Justice (where he has been a member for 6 years) spoke to Transparency International (NZ) about “Bringing the lamp of scrutiny to dark places”. (This address title comes from a judicial observation in a Canadian case relating to the role of Ombudsmen who not only shine the light but do so “even over the resistance of those who would draw the blinds.”)

His address traced the evolution of the Official Information Act, punctuated with anecdotal recollections from an extraordinary career, in the public service, academia and the judiciary. Sir Ken spoke with admiration of many of the senior officials who championed the legislation, and his audience no doubt inferred criticism of some officials over the last 30 years in whom the expectations of the long repealed Official Secrets Act seem more engrained than the purpose of the Official Information Act “…to increase progressively the availability of official information…”

Meanwhile yesterday’s Guardian carried a contribution from the National Secretary of the NZ Public Service Association.  Her advice to the UK Minister for the Cabinet Office, seeking civil service reform, was not to look to New Zealand for processes to replicate. He should reconsider his admiration of New Zealand public management as it has resulted in “…a separatist, corporate, contract-based model  that has created an extraordinarily fragmented system … in which too often the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing…”  She sees it as a failed experiement, not the formula for accountability and an outcome focus.

A common feature to the themes of both is the perceived intolerance New Zealand officials have for corruption; from a generation with leaders who were committed to better and open public services, to the current public sector, committed equally to an ethos of hard work and imbued with strong spirit of service, regardless of the structures imposed upon them.