25 January 2013

The State Services Commission posted its expectations yesterday about the publication by agency chief executives of gifts and hospitality given and received, and their expenses, for the second half of 2012. This is the fifth half yearly return that the Commissioner has required of State Services chief executives.

The disclosure of expenses is a continuing demonstration of the benefits of openness. Returns were newsworthy when they were novel. As the cycle of disclosure has become routine, the media has lost interest. In 2010 when the State Services Commissioner first set requirements for transparency by chief executives, many queried the purpose and benefit which would flow from the information being made public. The reluctance to disclose of some had the perverse effect of attracting attention. That opposition seemed irrational when European and North American jurisdictions akin to New Zealand placed greater demands on their officials.

Material accessible on http://www.data.govt.nz now affords transparency. Anyone wanting to know about this type of public spending is entitled to access it. Openness may also be a constraint on any indiscipline. Norms across the State Services become apparent, and agency staff can see what their chief executive considers to be good practice.
Each agency is required to post its chief executive’s expenses by 8 February 2013. Those for the Bay of Plenty DHB and Whanganui DHB are already available. This reflects an interesting trait. The Bay of Plenty DHB for example, was an enthusiastic and “early adopter” of the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services , evident also in the DHB’s participation in a training DVD issued by the State Services Commission in 2008. The chief executive seems to be a leader also in meeting the expectations of the State Services Commissioner “… to enhance public trust through the open disclosure of expenditure in which there is a public interest…”