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Monday, September 08, 2014

NZ OGP National Action Plan panned for poor consultation process

Jorg Hempel
New Zealand initially showed even less interest in the Open Government Partnership than Australia, until UK Prime Minister Cameron had a word with Prime Minister Key in London last September, leading to an application to join in November. 

But it has kicked ahead in a fashion since while we dither along, still 'considering'  three years on.

NZ was represented by a minister at the OGP regional meeting in Bali in May and apparently submitted the required national action plan on 31 July. 

The Plan focuses on the Better Public Services Results programme; the ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017, and the New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment. 

I've heard rumbles of dissatisfaction from across the ditch for months with the way the government handled the process.

Last week NZ online news service Scoop commented that the three themes were pre-selected by the government and in the two meetings with the community and voluntary sector that did discuss the plan, participants were presented with these as ‘faits accomplis’:
Meeting invitees gave a strong message that an “Open Government Partnership Action Plan” needed to start from widespread consultation, openness and non-partisan ideas, not a pre-determined, pro-National Party agenda. That was back in April. Subsequently the Cabinet has signed off the plan and sent it to OGP international secretariat for ratification. Aside from the broad themes no-one outside of government has a clue about what the Action Plan contains

Given the use of urgency, low levels of meaningful consultation and increased level of concern expressed by NGOs about their advocacy role and more recently the Dirty politics revelations the Government must realise it is on shaky ground regarding openness and transparency. It has not been open with us about many things and so it’s hard to see how having NZ join up to the Open Government Partnership will be seen as anything more than lipservice. Even the most Pollyanna-ish amongst us might wonder quite what would change with an OGP Action Plan that has been devised by government with minimal public input and signed off in secret.
Open and Shut contacted Dr Michael McCauley Director of the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) and Associate Professor in Public Management at the School of Government at Victoria University for a comment:
There is a lot of truth to the criticism and I think it has been clear from the events that we (IGPS) have run that people have felt disengaged from the process and that consultation needed to be simultaneously deeper and broader.  I warned of this back in an early 2014 issue of Policy Quarterly (pdf) but I think, to be fair, (State Services Commission) would accept such criticism as well.  To be honest, though, SSC can only be held responsible to some degree – they had a small team with limited resources – and the bigger question is the political will behind the whole project. OGP was passed among several agencies until it settled at SSC and, of course, New Zealand was asked to join back when the project was created but the government turned it down at the time.  The important thing, however, is not what’s gone wrong but what can and should go right.   I am usually pretty sceptical of these kinds of initiatives but not only is OGP a genuinely worthy cause – and worthy as an end in itself rather than an instrumental end.  More importantly I’ve seen numerous cases in the Asia Pacific Region as to how OGP has made a difference.   Finally New Zealand is expected to be a leader in this by other countries: and it is genuinely expectation rather than hope.  I am confident, however, that the consultation issues will be solved, not overnight and probably not any time in the next few months but in time for the next Action Plan; there will be a robust and sustainable consultation infrastructure.  In fact there just has to be or else we may as well leave OGP alone.
There were plenty of examples in the first wave of OGP national action plans of government grabbing and keeping the ball without much acknowledgement of the civil society players who were supposed to be part of the team. It's not what the OGP rules require.

If, when, Australia takes the step to publicly commit, let's hope for a full, open and meaningful consultation befitting a real open government partnership.

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