The draft Open Government Partnership Fourth National Action Plan includes 8 Commitments to support open government in New Zealand. The Plan was developed by representatives of civil society organisations and government agencies over 3 years.
New Zealand is internationally recognised for its high transparency, politically-neutral Public Service, and low levels of corruption. Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plans play an important role in maintaining these strengths and in supporting reforms to increase openness, transparency, democratic participation, and government accountability.
New Zealand has been progressing an open government agenda for many years. Open government values are expressed in many ways, including through laws, evolving government policy and institutional practice. The Official Information Act 1982 (OIA), which codifies the presumption of disclosure of government information, set the tone for openness in New Zealand some 40 years ago. Recent OIA education and reporting initiatives have helped the Public Service achieve high levels of OIA compliance. Other recent information transparency initiatives (such as the proactive release of Cabinet papers), continue to make government information more open and accessible.
The Public Service Act 2020 supports openness in government by requiring government departments to develop and publish Long-term Insights Briefings, independently of Ministers and in consultation with the public. These Briefings inform the public about medium and long-term trends, risks, and opportunities affecting New Zealand and its communities.
Openness in government encourages effective community and citizen engagement, an important area of reform in New Zealand being advanced through two commitments in this Plan. A commitment for the Public Service to adopt a common community engagement tool for ‘significant’ community engagements aims to lift the quality and consistency of community engagement by improving upfront critical thinking and planning. This commitment builds on work completed under the Third National Action Plan, that involved the development of tools and guidance to support the Public Service to apply the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Public Participation Framework (principles and spectrum). The quality of the tools and guidance developed was subsequently recognised by the IAP2 international body.
A second commitment to improve community engagement aims to explore how innovative, deliberative, democratic processes can be adapted and used to improve citizen engagement in the New Zealand context. There is currently little use of deliberative processes to improve community participation. There is real potential for government agencies, working together with communities, to trial and experiment on a range of topics through deliberative processes.
A third commitment focuses on the provision of integrated, multiple channels for public service delivery - channels to include options which meet diverse needs of all the people of Aotearoa and ensure access for all to public services and support. This will address the barriers people face when government services are delivered online, with limited alternative options for non-digital participation.
A reputation for high integrity, fiscal transparency, and ease of doing business are important attributes for a small trading nation like New Zealand. However, fraud and corruption risks are increasing worldwide. New Zealand has experienced some of its worst cases of public sector fraud and corruption in the last 10 years. Factors that may have contributed to fraud and corruption risks include increased emergency spending to respond to COVID-19, as well as relatively low levels of transparency in both public sector procurement and the beneficial ownership of companies and limited partnerships.
Three commitments in this Plan aim to support business transparency and, collectively, counter fraud and corruption risks. The commitments comprise the design and implementation of a national Counter Fraud and Corruption Strategy, increasing the transparency of beneficial ownership of companies and partnerships, and lifting the transparency of public sector procurement.
This plan also includes a commitment to strengthen access to public information by examining proposed OIA exemptions in new legislation. This will reduce the unnecessary introduction of non-disclosure provisions.
Finally, the plan includes a commitment to support the government use of data and personal information. This commitment seeks to strengthen the transparency and accountability of algorithm use across government agencies through the creation of a community of practice to share lessons learnt and implementing the principles of the Algorithm Charter for Aotearoa New Zealand.
All aspects of open government (including participation and inclusion) must be considered through the lens of what government means in the New Zealand context. In recent years, the government has articulated policy on the Māori-Crown relationship and the Crown’s obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi in various instruments. In 2019, Cabinet published agreed guidelines for policymakers to consider Te Tiriti in policy development and implementation. In 2022, Te Arawhiti (the Office for Māori Crown Relations) issued guidance to public servants on how to consider Te Tiriti implications in policy development and implementation. The guidance is supported by a range of tools and training on how to approach engagement with Māori.
More broadly, the Public Service Act 2020 (the Act) sets out the role of the Public Service in supporting the Crown’s relationships with Māori under Te Tiriti and in achieving the government’s objectives of improving services and outcomes for Māori. In developing this Plan, advice was sought from Te Puni Kōkiri and civil society organisations on how best to apply a Te Tiriti lens to this work.