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Thursday, May 07, 2009

A couple of candidates for improved transparency in NSW

The publication of information about school performance and government grants in NSW, which both featured in news reports critical of the current transparency arrangements yesterday, are examples of the sort of thing the public should expect to be different with a government now moving in the direction of best practice access to government information.

The Auditor General in a report on grant administration- over $5 billion in 2006-7- found little evidence of political fiddling but highlighted the need for more transparency about what grants are available where the money goes, and what is achieved as a result. The report includes the following:
"While agencies publish who gets grants and how much they get, most do not publish robust evaluations that explain what grant programs have achieved and how the distribution of funds has made good use of public money."
The Department of State and Regional Development doesn't publish details of industry support (grants and any other form) for one (any others?) and is exempted from the current (and proposed) Freedom of Information requirement for publication of contracts to ensure this information remains confidential. If there is any argument against disclosure, and I can't see it, surely a one to two year limitation on disclosure is all that should be required, not a blanket and enduring limitation on public access.

My guess is that publication of grants made by most agencies is tucked away in an appendix to an annual report. The Auditor General stops short of going this far, but for mine the publication requirement- at least for sizable whacks of public money- should be for agency specific and government wide information up on the web, searchable by recipient name, purpose, post code and electorate, and include performance measures and evaluations.

Federal Minister of Finance Tanner made a small start on improved transparency with a web publication requirement for Federal grants with this announcement in December 2008 about web publication of agency specific information -anyone know how it's going?

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