9 November 2018

Seven weeks ago the Minister of State Services announced that the Government would be proactively releasing Briefing Papers for Cabinet and Cabinet Committees.  We are now seven weeks away from implementation. Cabinet Papers lodged from 1 January 2019 must be published by the related agency on its website within 30 business days of Cabinet making a final decision on the paper’s recommendations.

The Government states that it is committed to improving practices around the proactive release of information. This will promote good government and transparency and foster public trust and confidence in agencies. The motivation is that democracies thrive when citizens trust and participate in their government.

Proactive release includes publishing a wide variety of official information, without any request from the public and publishing the same or edited information that has previously been released to an individual requester under the Official Information Act.

There is a caveat of course. The responsible Minister will be required to assess whether there are good reasons to withhold any of the information. Only Appointments and Honours papers will be automatically excluded from publication.

Cabinet Circular CO (18) 4 sets out relevant procedures. Papers going to Cabinet will have a Proactive Release section, which states whether or not the Minister proposes to release the material within 30 days of decisions being made by Cabinet. If a Cabinet paper is not intended to be proactively released, then the reason why must be explained.

Despite a series of very public hiccoughs during their first year in power, current Ministers appear to be philosophically attuned to strengthening the characteristics of good government.  The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCISE) pilot Index this year, which measured eight core functions and four core attributes of 31 developed jurisdictions to determine their effectiveness, treats Openness as an essential attribute. The United Kingdom was rated best for Openness, followed by New Zealand and then Norway, Denmark and Finland. A proactive release of Cabinet Papers must improve that standing.

The Index validates promoting Openness as a pathway to gaining the trust of citizens. The data sources used to determine Openness are:

  • the World Justice Project Open Government Index – OGI
  • the UN E-participation Index – EPI
  • Bertelsmann Sustainable Governance Indicators – SGI
  • The Worldwide Web Foundation
  • Open Data Barometer – ODB
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Open Data Index – GODI
  • The OECD OURdata Index

Whereas the UK scores more highly for government data availability, accessibility, and government data impact, New Zealand is top for publishing laws and the right to information.

The influence of Openness on integrity-rich government is illustrated impressively by the five top-rated countries for Openness also featuring among the top 10 economies in the TI Corruption Perception Index.