Seeing what we want to see?

9 August 2016

Measuring government agency effectiveness and efficiency is complicated;  and more so when comparing performance across the public sector.  The Performance Improvement Framework around which continuous improvement of NZ State Services is evaluated was refined again this year, diminishing the value of previous PIF reports for comparison purposes. The Trans Tasman Annual Review of Government Departments is probably too crude a tool to be taken seriously.

Making international comparisons is no less complex. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Ease of Doing Business Index (NZ 2nd in 2015),  Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  (NZ 4th in 2015) and numerous other measures like the Human Development Index (NZ 9th= in 2014) or even the World Happiness Index (NZ 9th in 2016) suggest the likely character of agencies but are insufficient to measure the competence and  efficiency of national agencies. Within the OECD the annual Government at a Glance survey is a generic performance indicator.

Nevertheless there are  international surveys that serve as  de facto comparators – assuming agencies have similar responsibilities; for example the Open Budget Index  may be seen as a comparative assessment of Finance Ministries – in which case the NZ Treasury could claim to be the best in the World, New Zealand having ranked highest on the two most recent Open Budget Indexes. The Global Peace Index where New Zealand has never ranked lower than 4th place may confirm the effectiveness of agencies in the Justice sector.

But some World Bank measures may provide a contrary picture.  The World Bank recently published the 2016 Logistics Performance Index, which measures the efficiency of clearance processes by border control agencies, – including speed, simplicity and predictability of formalities.  One product is a World Bank-produced pecking order of custom services in the 161 jurisdictions whose data is analysed. The top performing customs services, when the scores for the last four surveys are averaged,  are in Germany, Netherlands and Singapore.

NZ Customs Service has a mean rank of 22nd although New Zealand’s overall logistics performance puts it in 31st place. The New Zealand score dropped substantially in the 2016 index – to 37th place – which lowered the average of 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 LPIs.  Last week Indian media made play of India’s customs service performing better than New Zealand’s.

In the October 2015 UMR survey of public respect for government services in New Zealand, the NZ Customs Service was found to be the third most respected after the Fire Service and Police – and a little ahead of the Department of Conservation. If that is the perception New Zealanders have of an agency which rates poorly among comparable jurisdictions, a reasonable inference may be that the performance of agencies that are less well-regarded by New Zealanders is very poor compared with equivalent agencies in other developed jurisdictions.

Perhaps we see only what we want to see – and even when seeking to be objective “….we don’t see things as they are but as we are ourselves.”


UK government wants lobbying controls rejected by NZ parliament

4 September 2013

A fortnight ago Holly Walker’s Lobbying Disclosure Bill didn’t make it back from Select Committee. MPs voted down the Bill although unanimously agreeing to non statutory controls which would require

  • guidelines for MPs on handling lobbying communications, which could include mechanisms for disclosure and reporting by MPs and lobbyists
  • regulatory impact statements and explanatory notes of bills to include the names of any non-departmental organisations consulted during the development of legislation and policy
  • release of policy papers to make the policymaking process more transparent ( something now required anyhow in the Disclosure Statement which Departments promoting legislation are required to post on the Parliamentary Counsel Office website ).

The Attorney –General had previously been very disparaging of the Bill.

But this week British counterparts seemed accepting of measures thought unhelpful in New Zealand. The Opposition tried to vote the Bill down, seeing the Government proposal as more harmful than if lobbying remained unregulated. The Government had a majority of 71 on the Second Reading. Opposition MPs claim the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill has Government support because it has few of the characteristics prescribed in the OECD Principles of integrity and transparency in lobbying. Its attractiveness for some may be that inherent weakness.

In general terms the UK Bill

  • establishes a Register of consultant lobbyists with a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements
  • regulates election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties
  • strengthens requirements that trade unions keep up to date membership lists.

Opponents see the proposal as the sort of legislation promoted when Governments want to make a political statement but not to force change.

Can you bank on that?

5 November 2018

The New Zealand banking sector appears able to sigh with relief  – or at least draw a deep breath and wait for media attention to move on. The players have been told that a core area of their professional expertise – the governance of management risk – requires serious attention, and that they must markedly improve how they identify and manage unethical behaviour.  None of which is a surprise as polls rating the trustworthiness of bankers score them poorly, among taxi drivers, clergy and lawyers. But the Reserve Bank / Financial Markets Authority report published today, after more than 4000 hours of inquiry, struggles to rationalise the Government’s angst at the profits Australian banks have earned in New Zealand.

It has not uncovered the malfeasance and scale of self-interest being conceded ahead of the Australian Royal Commission into Banking etc Services reporting its findings.  The major players are the same in both markets but something in New Zealand seems to moderate exploitative practices hitherto viewed as acceptable by the leaders in these banks – in a sector once considered the epitome of trustworthiness. The most pejorative observation about the findings seems to be that it is “disgraceful” that only half of the banks had adopted FMA conduct and risk framework guidelines issued 21 months ago.

Business depends on bankers. It seems axiomatic that efficient and effective business depends on good bankers. And presumably, the ease of doing business is shaped by supportive banking services.

Last week the World Bank released its annual Ease of Doing Business survey results. Of the 120 economies assessed, New Zealand, overall, is the place where it is easiest to do business, ahead of Singapore and Denmark. New Zealand has always rated in the top decile in this survey. What is notable about the characteristics evaluated is that business acumen does not dominate. Many determinants are governance skills – the functionality of State servants who develop, implement and improve a regulatory climate sympathetic to business. But there is also an interface with banking capacity, with Getting Credit, Trading Across Borders, Resolving Insolvency. New Zealand is the easiest place for a business to get credit! And a number of the relevant factors are incorporated in the measures gathered by the World Justice Project to compile the Rule of Law Index – in which New Zealand again this year was placed 7th of the 113 surveyed jurisdictions.

The longer this post gets, the more it echoes past entries. There are no fireworks, despite the date.