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Transcript of Strengthening Democracy through Open Government

Read the transcript of the Strengthening Democracy through Open Government event featuring Sanjay Pradhan, Helen Clark, Helmut Modlik, Andrew Ecclestone and Suzanne Snively and moderated by Barbara Allen that was held at the Victoria University of Wellington on 13 April 2023.
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Dr Barbara Allen

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa! Ko Barbara Allen aho. I’m Deputy Head of School of Government, and on behalf of the School of Government and Te Herenga Waka I warmly welcome you to this really important event.

To all the organisers – there’s many of you – Simon and Elizabeth and Keitha and Joe, and a whole load of people, ngā mihi nui. And to all of you attending this evening, you’re the most important part. Ngā mihi nui.

Now there’s always risk in asking an academic to moderate an event. We tend to talk a lot, at least in our professional lives, but I promise I won’t other than doing the necessary bits. This is about you, our panellists, and this critical theme of open government democracy, trust, engagement, collaboration, accountability. This is what we’re really talking about tonight.

We all know the New Zealand results in terms of corruption indices, trust measures. We hear them a lot. That’s great this means but it means we’re even more responsible for doing it better. Being more open, more democratic, more engaging with citizens: showing leadership in this space.

And we do have a long way to go. One of my personal interests is public spending, specifically through strategic procurement. Increasingly an important lever for achieving economic, social and environmental outcomes. Now where all this money goes shouldn’t be behind a curtain. Our democracy depends on openness and transparency. The Open Contracting Partnership itself presents an interesting opportunity, but here we are at the Open Government Partnership.

I’ll briefly introduce our panellists. Please understand I’m giving significantly condensed biographies here. All of our guests have distinguished CVs, and extremely deep knowledge about our topic this evening. I’ll introduce all of them and then we’ll start with their short contributions.

So, first we have Sanjay Pradhan: welcome. Chief Executive Officer of the Open Government Partnership. Previously Sanjay has been the World Bank’s Vice President for Leadership Learning and Innovation, Vice President of the World Bank Institute and its Director of Governance, among many other distinguished roles. Sanjay will help us understand what open government means, how it’s progressing worldwide, and how we can make progress on public participation – or so I’m hoping.

Second, an amazing woman who needs little introduction: Helen Clark. Of course she served as Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008. She was then the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme from 2009 to 2017, and is currently a global ambassador for the Open Government Partnership. We’re keen to hear about your experiences as an OGP ambassador and as EITI – Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – board chair. (There’s a lot of words to get around.)

Helen will be followed by Helmut Modlik, the Chief Executive Officer Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira, the mandated iwi authority for Ngāti Toa rangatira. He’s currently leading an experiment in Te Tiriti-based deliberative community governance in Porirua, which combines Māori, Pasifika and deliberative democracy concepts and ideas. This includes a standing committee of community leaders who are inclusively invited to come together and deliberate, discuss, agree, and act. And this forum will be augmented periodically by the operation of wānanga – or citizens assembly – process for wide community engagement. Look forward to hearing from you Helmut.

Now two other panellists will make short remarks in response to our – sort of – main speakers.

We have Andrew Ecclestone: welcome Andrew. Deputy Chair of the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties, and Senior Associate in Victoria University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies. Andrew has a long involvement with the field of access to official information and open government and has worked as a Senior

Investigator Official Information Practice Investigations in the Office of the Ombudsman as well as with the State Services Commission (at the time) on its first Open Government Partnership Action Plan.

Andrew will be followed by Suzanne Snively who’s a member of the New Zealand Open Government Partnership Expert Advisory Panel. Suzanne chaired Transparency International New Zealand until November 2021, and has focused on integrity across all sectors, including as Project Director for the Transparency International Financial Integrity System Assessment. She and Murray Petrie co-edited the 2013 New Zealand Integrity-Plus National Integrity Systems Assessment that recommended New Zealand join as country members of the Open Government Partnership.

Now Sanjay, Helen and Helmut will have approximately five minutes each. Then I will ask Andrew and Suzanne to respond briefly, in about two to three minutes – we’ll see how all that goes. I’ve been told to keep everyone to time as best I can so I will endeavour to do that.

We have nice little shiny bells. Then we’ll move to questions. We have a different kind of format than what we might normally do, but there’s paper and pens around – or hopefully you have a pen – to write your questions down. So you can think of them as we’re going through the talks, and then we’ll gather them up and I will do my best to read them out. We’ll answer them in collaboration I think. If you’re online, Simon is going to handle that and we’ll get the questions written down and we’ll ask as many as possible: we’ll see how far we can go. And then at about 6:25 we’ll wrap up and continue into the foyer for refreshments and further conversations, until about 7 pm.

That’s the introduction that I have, so I think we’re ready to go, if I can introduce Sanjay to start.

Sanjay Pradhan

Hello, hello, can you hear me? Hi. Okay, so I’ll just stand here if that’s alright, because then I can see all of you.

Good evening. Kia ora. It’s a real, real – it’s wonderful to be back in Wellington, and a great pleasure to be with all of you. Thank you so much for being here. And a great pleasure to be with my friend, former Prime Minister and OGP Ambassador, Helen Clark. Just really lovely to be here.

Let me share some remarks from a global perspective, and close with some thoughts on New Zealand.

So, globally, we are witnessing and confronting unprecedented threats to democracy today. Freedom House reports 15 consecutive years of decline in democracy and civil liberties. An astonishing two-thirds of the world’s population today live in countries that are non-democratic or where democracy is backsliding. We are witnessing a menacing rise of authoritarian leaders undermining democracy, of which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is only the most egregious.

As we join forces against these external threats we must also tackle internal threats to democracy which stem from plummeting citizens’ trust in government as measured by the Edelman barometer.

In too many countries citizens perceive their governments to be disconnected and unresponsive, or corrupt and captured by special interests. It is this citizen distrust that populists have stoked to rise to power, spread disinformation, and then undermine democratic institutions.

But over the same period the Open Government Partnership – for which I serve as CEO – which was launched at the United Nations in 2011 has grown into a major global platform with 75 countries, over 100 local governments, and thousands of civil society organisations who have together implemented over 5000 reforms.

Through these, courageous reformers across OGP are pushing back and renewing democracy by advancing four clusters of reforms.

The first cluster: OGP reformers are opening up opaque public systems to build trust with citizens in key areas that may be useful for New Zealand’s reform efforts. So, for instance, 70 OGP governments from Argentina to Ukraine are disclosing procurement contracts – which Barbara just talked about – often in open data standards to end back room deals.

30 OGP countries, such as Slovakia and the UK, are publishing registers to end anonymous companies that stash illicit wealth, evade taxes, and prop up autocrats undermining democracy behind shell companies.

As you grapple with the lobbying scandal here, you can draw upon the experience of 20 OGP members such as Chile, Ireland and Madrid that have been advancing lobbying transparency through registers which allows citizens to monitor meetings and donations between lobbyists and public officials. So that’s the first cluster.

The second cluster is reformers are empowering citizens to shape policies that impact their lives, such as climate. So through its OGP action plan France is strengthening citizens participation in the design of its energy and climate strategy. Amidst increasing polarisation that we see in all our societies, citizens’ assemblies across OGP are voting shared solutions on contentious policies such as same-sex marriage in Ireland, or climate change in Scotland or the treaty-based citizen assembly in Porirua in New Zealand that I’m sure Helmut will talk about.

The third cluster of reforms is tackling systemic inequalities by empowering women, such as addressing the gender wage gap in Jalisco, Mexico, or empowering historically marginalised indigenous community in Costa Rica through OGP’s co-creation platform.

And the fourth cluster is tackling digital threats, such as disinformation and illegal surveillance. To curb disinformation Canada, through its OGP action plan, is strengthening the transparency of online political campaigns. France and New Zealand are improving the transparency of algorithmic decision-making.

So these four clusters of reforms are empowering citizens to shape and oversee their governments every day, not just once in a few years when we cast our vote. So we call this ‘democracy beyond the ballot box’, and we must scale up these reforms worldwide as bulwarks of our democratic institutions under assault.

And New Zealand can have a vital role in this. I have travelled long and far here in New Zealand because of the precious promise New Zealand holds for our Partnership, and also for what the Partnership can do for New Zealand.

As Barbara said, New Zealand is first in the Economist’s Democracy Index, second in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

At our next Global Summit of OGP in September, to be hosted by the Estonian prime minister, we are aiming to convene and coalesce a global coalition of nations and leaders that are renewing democracy, forging a countervailing force against the rise of authoritarianism. New Zealand has the international credibility to be a co-leader in this global coalition, so please join us in Estonia.

But you know the flip side of a strong international reputation is the risk of complacency. And I’m sure you’re all here precisely to fight that complacency by, for instance, ensuring that ground breaking laws such as Freedom of Information, enacted decades ago in New Zealand, remain fit for purpose. Or that we tackle emerging threats in New Zealand from lobbying, or disinformation, or foreign interference where some OGP peers have a head start.

It is vital that New Zealand has decided to reform its multi-stakeholder forum. We have credible, compelling, evidence from 10 years of OGP that robust and equal government and civil society collaboration, underpinned by strong leadership commitment and adequate resources, leads to ambitious reforms and strong results.

So, in closing, amidst the gloom and doom of war, amidst the gloom and doom of war, and the rise of authoritarianism, I am traveling around the world to ignite more and more bright lights of democracy and openness. I hope you will all join us. I hope you will all partake of our invitation to shine a bright light in our partnership, and travel with us in this important journey to renew democracy here and around the world. Thank you.

Helen Clark

Good evening everyone. Where do you want me? Just in front, yes? But I want to rest things here. So are you doing it on Zoom?

[Organiser] Yes, we are.

[Helen Clark] OK, so where do you want me?

[Organiser] Could you swap with Barbara?

[Helen Clark] OK, great. And you need the mic for the zoom right? OK.

Good evening everyone and great to be here to support Sanjay and his visit to New Zealand. Not his first visit – he tells me he came here for the World Bank about 20 years ago, so he knows us a little bit.

When I left UNDP, I got an approach from Sanjay and his Deputy, Joe Powell. And they said, “Would you be an ambassador for us?” Well how could I say no? The partnership was formed after I left government here, it was formed in 2011, and I can see that New Zealand was quite an early mover and joining, in 2013, which is good. I came to know of OGP through UNDP, which was often a partner in supporting the action plans in developing countries where UNDP had offices. And over the years I attended the odd meeting – not odd at all, actually – great meetings of OGP. I remember coming to Mexico, United Kingdom – in London there was one – and then of course at the U.N. itself, speaking on behalf of UNDP.

So I think the global context is, as Sanjay has put it, that democracy is taking a bit of a pounding at the moment. And you, you know, mentioned these forces, Sanjay, of the disinformation, the foreign interference. You know, even well-established democracies like our own, obviously the United States, United Kingdom, we’re beset by various forces. Forces of populism, of extremism in political discourse. And I think we see that now to a degree that we haven’t necessarily seen for sustained periods in the past. We’re assailed with conspiracy theorists, the anti-science people, all of it building a distrust, if you like between citizens, let alone the relationship or social contract you can have between citizens and the state. So it’s polluting public debate in our own country as well as in a range of others.

And we see it play out, don’t we, on our social media? I’m a prolific user of social media. You almost have to be full-time on patrol against trolls who want to pollute every comment stream that you have.

Of course, you know, relative our problems may not seem as great as some. We’re not in a country where, you know, free speech invites imprisonment. Where being LGBTQI invites imprisonment and even death, and so on. But, you know, let’s not think the pressures that democracy is under in our world are not pressures that affect us. And we can, as Sanjay said, become complacent. And, let’s face it, we’re always a bit prone to the “she’ll be right” attitude here. Well, she won’t be right unless there’s eternal vigilance, I guess is the message.

Sanjay mentioned the lobbying issue, and I think it’s got away from New Zealand, you know. Regulation is most definitely needed, and it’s good that it’s signalled that it’s coming. We need a law. You know lobbyists were always there, but you tended to be able to identify them. It was Michael Thompson from the Tobacco Institute, or Terry Dunleavy from the alcohol companies, or whatever. But now it’s the revolving door, isn’t it? Of people have been the press secretaries, and the political advisors, and even ministers for heaven’s sake. I mean we need legislation, we need cooling off periods, we need things that other democracies have put in place to guard against undue influence.

The political donations area has, I think, been polluting New Zealand for some time. And it’s damn hard to fix, I can tell you as one who tried to fix it. Ask the U.S., where – you know – there’s supposed to be a cap on donations and they just form more political action committees. It’s hard to fix. But we have to keep trying.

So you know we can’t just pretend that we don’t have issues. We do have issues. And on the huge holes, I’m glad to see one of them that’s identified in the current action plan for OGP here, which is the beneficial ownership issue. This is huge. You know, money can swill, swish in and out of this country to who knows who; from where to who? We don’t know. It needs very urgent action. I think if I look at the state of affairs in New Zealand, New Zealand would not be able to comply with the standard of the Extractive Industry’s Transparency Initiative, which I chair globally, and which I do think, by the way, New Zealand would benefit from joining. We do have, I think, about one percent of GDP comes off minerals, and there is still residual oil and gas. These are always areas that are problematic globally, and the EITI standard requires every country implementing it to have beneficial ownership legislation of a certain standard. For heaven’s sake, if Zambia and Uganda can attempt it why couldn’t we? You know, we are behind on this.

And also worth noting that the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative is a partner organisation for OGP. They’re actually quite closely linked, and it’s not uncommon, Sanjay, in the countries which are members of both to see in the OGP action plan commitments that will help implement the EITI standards. So I think it is something that New Zealand should consider, and really urge people to – you know – maybe think about how we might increase some interest in that in New Zealand.

But I think, in the end, the main threats here are these threats of complacency. That we don’t keep up with the times. The need for regulation of lobbying. The need for more scrutiny around – and openness around – the political donation issues. The issues of beneficial ownership. Just a whole lot of things, I think, are nibbling away at us, and we need to arrest them before they get truly chronic – which they can if you just let things slide.

So, “she won’t be right”. That’s my message, thank you.

Helmut Modlik

E ngā reo, e ngā mana, e ngā karangaranga maha, tēnā tātou. Mihi atu ki a koe e te rangatira kua tau mai nei ki Aotearoa, mihi atu ki a koe. E tē māreikura, e Helen, mihi atu ki a koe, koutou rā.

Good to be with you all this evening, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a little bit overwhelming to be standing next to such auspicious people.

Anyway, when I was invited to come along and join the kaupapa tonight my mind immediately reverted to a discussion I was a party to up at Victoria University in the late 80s.

Our prime minister at the time, David Lange – this is when we were debating about

whether to shift from first-past-the-post to MMP – and the Prime Minister was there, David Lange. And I remember he said asking politicians to redesign the electoral system was like asking panel beaters to redesign intersections. That that piece of wisdom has never lost me, and it came to mind when I saw what the kaupapa was for the korero tonight.

Three years ago I started my current role, on a Monday. At midnight that night the Prime Minister announced that she was shutting down the country that Wednesday. That was an interesting way to start my new role.

[Helmut is moved by the host to stand slightly to the left so he is further into the camera’s view] Kia ora for that.

I think all of us were amazed at what then happened. Facing an existential threat, the Prime Minister issued the call for us to create Fortress New Zealand. And as compelling and as inspiring as she can be on occasion – or used to be apparently – it was really the unified endeavour of the people of this land that gave rise to what we subsequently called ‘the miracle of the team of five million.’

Am I right? So it was us that actually gave rise to that miracle. The other thing that was, like, really amazing to, I think, all of us was: faced with that existential threat how quickly money flowed. Like really quickly to anything and everything it seemed. And for us in the Māori community, it was actually a bit sobering to reflect, after decades of asking for resourcing to support equitable outcomes facing our existential threat, and to be told that we can’t afford it, it was sobering to reflect, “Oh! Clearly the wrong people were facing an existential threat previously.”

I’ll leave that little piece of wisdom with you to reflect on further.

As the year went on – at the end of that year, it was 2020 still – I was invited to be a part of a workshop the Ministry of Health called to see what lessons we could learn from ‘the miracle of the team of five million’ to achieve in due course something approximating to a ubiquitous rollout of the vaccine that people expected to turn up in due course. My first question to the workshop was, “So what example of public policy could we draw on and learn some lessons for, that historically we’ve implemented, that is universally available to everyone?”

We scratched our heads, and soon realised that we couldn’t think of a single thing. If you can think of one, come and see me after.

Now that was – I was gobsmacked. That thought had never occurred to me. Fresh food? No. Roads, footpaths? No. Housing? No. Education? Not a thing. Not for everybody. Not for everybody.

Where my mind immediately went was, “It’s got to be systemic.” Right? If we’ve applied ourselves to this endeavour, and we’ve never been able to pull off ubiquity, we must have created some constitutional machinery of government arrangements, clearly, that cannot deliver ubiquity.

Well that vexed me for quite some time, and over summer, as I was lying in the sun, I wondered, “How the blazes did that happen?”

I realized something. My koro was born in 1903 and when he was a young man the world was ruled by emperors and kings, mostly. Right? When my mum was born in ’33, in her youth the emperors were mostly gone, the kings were still around, a few dictators were doing their thing, and only a few fledgling democracies. What I realised was, “We haven’t been doing this very long.”

You know, for those who’ve had any exposure to software development, and what a minimum viable product is: that you bring it to market in order to address what is the key problem and functional issues that are needed. It seemed to me that the version one – the minimum viable product – the initial launch of democracy that we’d embraced, was primarily focused on the problems that it was seeking to address.

The unfit and inappropriate use of power: yeah, tick.

The reasonably effective aggregation and risk-managed distribution of resources: yeah, tick.

Etcetera, etcetera. But what it clearly wasn’t designed to do was to deliver ubiquitous or universal outcomes to everybody. I’d go so far as to say that thought never even occurred to anybody in the 20th century when they were thinking about these things. Might be pushing it too far. Anyway.

Not long after that, my good friends from The People Speak, an Aotearoa-based NGO that is trying – is just ordinary kiwis – trying to be active in the promulgation and championing of participative and deliberative democratic processes approached me, in my capacity as the C.E. of Ngāti Toa, to see if Ngāti Toa would be interested in partnering with them in a safe-to-fail experimentation in deliberative democracy.

“Sounds like a good damn idea to me,” I said, and so we – over the last year and a half – we’ve proceeded to think it through, engage with our community.

Excuse me, I’ve got to do a little bit of this. [Drinks some water]

And ultimately we landed on, what we’re calling in Porirua, Talanoa-Wānanga.

So, quick background. In the Pacific, for those of you who’ve had any exposure to the Pacific, no matter what part of the Pacific you go into, the word ‘talanoa’ is used by everybody.

And it’s basically the idea that the community – and usually they’re villages – will spend time to deliberate around the issues, good and bad, that pertain to that community. Sounds exactly like the kind of kaupapa and mechanism that we’re after, right?

So a Pasifika leader in Porirua gifted us that name. OK, why don’t we stand up a talanoa?

Our initial engagement with our leadership landed on two streams of thinking. One is that we would stand up a standing forum, of community leaders with a constituency, with a constituency. That we’d come together to talk about whatever we wanted. And it wasn’t, and it isn’t, a permission asking exercise: it’s about us owning our own space, drawing on our constituency, our resources, what is available to us. Building a shared understanding, building a coalition, and acting intentionally. We’re pretty confident that the local politicians will pay attention. Why wouldn’t they?

The second leg of our initiative is the adoption, or repurposing, of this idea of a citizen’s assembly. Where our vision is to repurpose it by localising it with our tikanga, our constitutional partnership orientation, from our Tiriti – and we can talk about that further – but that’s what we’re planning on doing, and are looking excitedly to launch our first go at that shortly, focused on the kaupapa of climate change.

OK. Bring it to a wrap. I agree with every word that’s been said in terms of the description of the problem. I have a different view on what the cause – the root cause is. My view is that even if we had a perfectly transparent and open government, if it was ineffective we’d still have the stretching of our social contract in society.

To my mind what’s going on – I won’t overstate it – but substantively what’s going on is that we have ineffective government everywhere: democratic forms. And the people who are most dispossessed, who are most marginalised, are sick and tired of not having the outcomes that everybody else apparently is getting, and that apparently all the public policy is supposed to deliver.

Now Ngāti Toa is not in the business of asking for much, and it’s our intention to be the change we want to see. We are looking to own our space, own our community.

We’re not in charge of the whole damn world, but we’ve got plenty to say in Porirua and across our rohe, to engage with our community leadership, to engage our people, on the ground, and to accumulate evidence in our safe-to-fail experimentation in community-driven democratic processes.

And I bet you right now, both local and central government in due course will pay attention.

Kia ora anō tatou.

Andrew Ecclestone

I don’t need to move any further to the left.

[Laughter from audience]

Tēnā koutou katoa. Thank you for having me here.

When we were organising this event we posed a few questions on the invitation – the registration site. One of them was about, “What does open government mean?”

And I think it’s important to talk about that, because we can talk about what it’s here to address and so on, but unless we’re clear about what ‘open government’ means then we’re not going to get very far.

The phrase has been around for a long time. The Danks Committee’s report that led to the OIA in 1980 was called ‘Towards Open Government’. In 1993, as I was starting my career on access to government information in the UK, the John Major government published a white paper called ‘Open Government’.

So the phrase has been around for a long time but it’s actually shifted in meaning, and in the lifespan of the OGP there’s been increasing amounts of academic studies to define what do we mean by ‘open government’.

And it’s an important issue because, in 2020, New Zealand passed a Public Service Act which says that every chief executive of a government department is under a statutory duty to “foster a culture of open government”.

So what are they supposed to be doing?

An open government has three components. It’s public participation in the development of policies and services. It’s public accountability. And both of those pillars are resting on a foundation of access to government information. Information that is held by public authorities in our name, and who act on our behalf. So open government is fundamentally about the transfer of political power from executive government to the public and civil society so that they can participate in the governance of their own country and in the services they receive, and hold governments to account.

Or as Geoffrey Palmer wrote in ‘Unbridled Power’ in 1979, “information gives power to those who have it and deprives those who do not.”

So why is it important that we get this right?

And I have a two-word answer. It’s called ‘climate change’.

We can alternatively call it ‘social cohesion’.

And that may seem very distant. But governments everywhere are facing major problems that span generations of the population. We know rationally the challenges of climate change and collapsing biodiversity. Funding future pensions. The ongoing crises of access to ubiquitous public services of housing, health, education. And we know that many of those issues have been exacerbated by governments of all colours kicking really difficult decisions down the road. You can argue it’s a three-year electoral term, but I can tell you coming from a country with a five-year electoral term it doesn’t really matter what the length of your electoral term is. Governments put off taking difficult decisions, because we have a democratic system that favours currying opinion in the centre.

But behind a lot of those issues are significant divergences both in the values that people have, and the steps that we could take to address them. There’s a huge difference between people who will protest on the motorway coming into Wellington saying, “We need more trains”, and farmers turning up for Groundswell protests on tractors. There’s a huge divergence of values there, and approaches we can take to one of the biggest challenges we face.

So open government, if it’s taken seriously – and that means far more emphasis on public participation in designing the policies and services – are about helping us overcome the fractures that we face in society.

Suzanne Snively

Kia ora kotou.

Ten years ago now I was invited to be the co-director for the publication of the Integrity-Plus National Integrity Systems Assessment.

I don’t know how many of you have actually seen this. And I thought this would become New Zealand’s bible, because I thought that democracy was so strong in New Zealand and integrity was such a major part of how we see ourselves, that everyone would want to read this document.

I’ve been really found out, of course. But one of the 70 different recommendations that were in the document was that New Zealand should join the Open Government Partnership. And fascinating: we were invited to join from the beginning – September the 11th, 2011 – and our government chose not to join.

But when we started writing this report, and the information got around government, before this report was published New Zealand had joined, so we had to rewrite the whole section from the beginning, where we’d said New Zealand is recommended to join Open Government [Partnership], to say New Zealand has joined Open Government [Partnership].

Then we were invited by the then State Services Commission to lead an exercise in terms of the First National Action Plan and the first National Action Plan recommended that every single one of the 70 recommendations in this report be adopted, and that they be progressed.

And amongst those recommendations, Sanjay and Helen, was beneficial ownership.

And other recommendations which were also very widely promulgated at the time were political party funding, the importance of freedom of the press, the importance of lobbying being controlled.

Christine Lloyd, who’s here tonight, had a lovely spreadsheet with all of the different recommendations on it, and we met every month to talk about how they might be progressed.

And in 2018, Liz Brown and Julie Haggie put together an update – a five-year update – on this.

We had found that there were some changes made, but quite frankly the overriding perspective that was in this, is that New Zealand is far too passive and complacent about these things that matter. As Helen said, the amount of resources in New Zealand which are lost because of our inability to address beneficial ownership, are probably between five and ten percent of our GDP, at a minimum.

Why does this happen?

It happens because the nefarious out there love a vacuum. They love loose legislation. They love passive democracies. And of course they’re aided and abetted by the fact that New Zealand has the seventh largest coastline in the world, so it’s quite easy for people to come in and launder money and goods and services through our coastline, not to mention through our housing market.

So I’d like to introduce, based on your comments Helmut, a new terminology. That we somehow go away tonight, and we replace passivity and complacency with effective, energetic, engagement.

I look here tonight, and I think we were expecting an over full house. Being Wellington, of course, we always know that we’re all too busy, and so you never get – even if you’ve got more people saying they’re coming than do – you always end up with empty seats. So this is common.

But again you guys are extremely important, because you understand the importance of democracy, and the importance of strengthening democracy. And I suspect that like all of us here at the front table, and looking at your faces I know, because I know most of you, you’ve all in your own way tried to push forward on something that really mattered in terms of changing the common good for New Zealanders.

And you’ve all pushed really hard, and you’ve pushed for many years. We could say that the last 10 years have been the most incredibly unexpected 10 years in our lives. You know it started out at the beginning with earthquakes, and a bit of climate change problems, and we’ve ended up in the last couple years – the last three or four years – with everything you can imagine: locusts, pandemics, floods, cyclones, hurricanes. So we could use that as an excuse.

But I’d like to think that we’ve now got to say, “It’s getting too late. If you want to strengthen democracy, you’ve got to go around, and go away tonight and be effective, energetic, and – importantly – engaging, so that more people than just those of us here tonight can make a difference.”

Thank you.

Barbara Allen

Thank you everyone. I absolutely failed: I let everybody run as long as they wanted. But I think it was really important to let you make your points and to ensure everybody had their moment.

Right, we’re going to start with the next section. We still have plenty of time. 

Questions. So, if you’ve managed to write any questions we’re going to start gathering them up, and I will do the best I can to get as many [as we can].

OK, we’ll start right away.

So, from Anna: “What does effective engagement look like? How does the ordinary person on the street get involved and understand this?”

So that gets right at the heart I think of what we’re talking about. Sanjay, do you want to have a start? There’s the – the mic is coming.

Sanjay Pradhan

You know open government is an intersection between transparent government and engaging government, and an engaging citizenry. So engagement means both sides of the equation have to come together. So how does an – how does an ordinary person – I mean if that was the way, Barbara, you phrased it? I think it’s about advocacy for locally homegrown issues that matter to you, and it’s a responsive government that’s listening and responding to you. So I’m just thinking, what are some examples that we can give which actually encapsulate it.

I can give you some examples from around the world. So I’ll take you to Italy, [where] there was an investigative journalist who concluded that a lot of the EU funds that were meant for the southern part of Italy were not being utilised. And so what the government did is they actually decided in an effective, engaged – I forget the third ‘e’ Suzanne – but they decided to proactively share, on a platform which is called Open Coesioni, details of – get this – one million projects financed by the EU. Financed by a total of 100 billion euros.

That was the scale of the problem. And they disclosed it in Open Coesioni, in open data standards.

So that was the government being, you know, going out and reaching to the citizenry saying, “These are the projects financed by the EU that is meant for you.”

But they didn’t stop there. They then started this project called Monithon. Monithon was one of the biggest citizen mobilisation projects, where citizens were mobilised, youth were mobilised and students were mobilised through high school competitions. There were high school competitions to track each of these projects, which are locally relevant. So high school students got engaged in local projects where they started monitoring the funds that they were supposed to receive, which they could track in open data standards.

So these students got engaged, and they started to demand why, for instance, money that was meant for a refugee centre was blocked by the mafia. And when students start inquiring [into] this, people start listening, because it’s a school project. Students got engaged, the government was listening, and the government started responding, unblocking the funds.

I used this as an example of a dual engagement, that you need an engagement from government to citizens, in opening up the space, through transparency and openness, for citizens to engage. Citizens engaging on things that matter to them which was for instance these high school students in Bolsonaro, if I got the name correctly: Bovalino, I think it was. They started agitating on the refugee centre for migrants. So this is an example of engagement which needs to go both ways, and when there is a healthy constructive combustion [?] you have better results.

Barbara Allen

Thank you very much. Lots of questions coming in. Just picking ones that I think will be interesting really. No favourites or anything. And most people have not put their names to it which is fine too. We’ll be sure to keep them all, and they might be really useful in terms of gathering information.

Suzanne Snively

I just wanted to add that the third word was ‘energetic’.

As an economist, I’m really interested in data. One of the things that I’ve never seen in my life was the extent to which we were able to collect information about COVID, and publish it daily, and have trends and be able to analyse both what’s happening in the long term as well as the short term with the data that we had. It was an absolutely amazing amount of energy that went into that.

What I think we need to see is the same sort of energy being put into each role that you play. Why is it that only with COVID that we’re able to discover information about ourselves, and about our health and well-being? Why can’t we be using those same tools, and other daily things that we do, that matter to us as New Zealanders, and matter to us as part of a democracy?

And Sanjay, I guess the question to you is, it would be good if there could be a centralised tool that was happening, as part of open government, that countries could  apply, so that we don’t all keep reinventing the wheel. It seems like social media has been able to do it very effectively, but not always for good – often for bad. How can we do it for good?

Barbara Allen

Thank you. I’ll move on. Yeah, let’s move on.

OK, Helmut, what specific forms or form do you see Porirua’s Te Tiriti-based assembly will take?

Helmut Modlik

What sort of form?

Barbara Allen

What sort of forms or form it will take?

Helmut Modlik

Yeah, that’s easy. So, we put out the call to the community leaders to come to Takapuwahia. We have a very large wharekai. It’s a big hall there.

And we have facilitated engagement with them. And we talanoa about whatever it is we want to talk about. That’s sort of like the talanoa deliberative bit for the community leadership bit. It’s no more sophisticated than that. We’ll figure it out as we go. That’s why it’s safe-to-fail.

On the citizens assembly slash wānanga bit: so this is where it gets a little bit more juicy, because our proposition is that we’re repurposing the international model and applying a Treaty house model, right. Where we’ve got – the proposition is that we’ve got – a rangatiratanga house or assembly deliberating, and then we’ve got our tangata Tiriti house: they’re deliberating. And then once we’ve done that we’ll come together, and then we’ll compare notes and korero until we’ve exhausted ourselves or agreed, or both, and then we’ll go forward from there. So that’s just a quick flavour, and I hope that answers the question.

Barbara Allen

That’s great, thank you very much. I’m glad that we were able to expand a bit upon that. Here’s a question that sort of reflects, I think, a number of the other questions as well. So, they’ve written, “Civil society has invested significant effort in the past New Zealand action plans, only for the government to reduce commitments to little more than existing programmes. Why should we continue to engage? It seems our time is wasted.” Who wants to have a go at that? Andrew? That’s not easy.

Andrew Ecclestone

So, one of the things you learn from a 30-year career in working in governance reform is that it’s the triumph of hope over experience. And I remain hopeful that intelligent people will grasp the fact that continuing, as Einstein said, to do things the same way and expecting a different result is not – you know – likely to work out for people.

One of the things that we need to confront in New Zealand is the structural weakness of our civil society compared to many other Open Government Partnership member countries.

And I did a little number crunching a while back about the size of three NGOs in New Zealand, compared to their counterparts in Ireland – which has the same population – and in the UK which is obviously a lot bigger. And I looked at the Council for Civil Liberties that I’m the deputy chair of, at Transparency International, and the umbrella body for civil society organisations in each country.

And in New Zealand the Council for Civil Liberties has zero full-time staff: we’re all volunteers. In Ireland they have 12 full-time staff, and in the UK 60.

Transparency International in the UK has 43 staff and in Ireland they have eight. [And in NZ only 1]

And those kinds of major lack of resources for civil society organisations mean that when people want to get engaged in other countries they might join the civil society organisation and hope that it has the capacity to do that. In this country it’s a real struggle.

And one of the reasons that it continues to be a struggle is actually because we had a government in 2017, elected on a manifesto pledge to do a first principles review of charity law. And Sue Barker, who is sitting here in the audience, has done a major piece of work with a grant from the Law Foundation about reform of charity law in New Zealand and the government that simply said, “Oh that’s a good doorstop, we’re going to do a little bit of incremental reform.”

And what that means is that we’re going to continue in a situation where organisations that speak out on matters of political topics are denied charitable status. And in a country where resources are so tight, that continues to hobble civil society’s ability to participate meaningfully.

Barbara Allen

Does anybody else want to comment on that one?

Helmut Modlik

Yeah I do. As part of community that has intergenerational experience in being ignored and impoverished and unable to get traction on public policies of, you know, significant moment, I can tell you that hope is not really adequate in my view. And while it – of course – it springs eternal, and must be a part of the thing, my strong recommendation is to actually be determined to lift where you stand. Right?

So our NGO, our – Te Reo O Ngā Tāngata, The People Speak – are just a handful of ordinary kiwis who have put their minds and hearts to actually collaborating, to catalyse good things. And it’s underway. You get the flavour, right? I would strongly, strongly, encourage us – if the kaupapa is powerful enough – if it’s that meaningful to us, we just need to be determined. Tighten up our scrum, you know. Guilt everybody into doing the right thing. Drag the philanthropic dollar, the whatever dollar.

The currency that the politicians pay attention to is – excuse me, there’s a former one here – is of course, you know, political currency. Attention. Votes. They want to be around winners. People who are doing stuff. And so that would be my strong encouragement. It’s to be focused on lifting where you stand, being the change we want to see. Make good stuff happen. Politicians will come: promise!

Barbara Allen


Sanjay Pradhan

Yeah. I would just urge you to this question that for civil society… So I have been here for a couple of days – and even before that I had some information – but even in talking to people I understand the frustration that civil society have experienced. I do want to say, not to lose hope and not to lose faith, because the OGP co-creation process was structured in a way that needed reform.

And the government has decided to reform the multi-stakeholder forum. They’re actually working on it. And very specifically, there is an unusual design in New Zealand which is on the Expert Advisory Panel, which are experts, advisors to government on a confidential basis. That needs to be opened up, because if civil society has to work on a confidential basis it defeats the purpose of their role in soliciting broader community input.

Both ways. Which informs the OGP co-creation process. So that needs to be opened up. But more broadly, what I have suggested is that – and it’s open – that we have in OGP 10 years of experience in these multi-stakeholder forums, and that 10 years – and we have a research report with actual data and evidence which we can share with anyone – and it shows that when you have robust and equal co-creation between government and civil society the reforms are more ambitious, and the results are stronger.

Which means that the co-creation process – the multi-stakeholder forum in New Zealand – needs to be reformed, which is what the government also wants to do. And it’s doing a review right now to that effect, to make it more equal between government and civil society. To broaden the base of both government agencies and civil society that engage in the OGP process, and to make this process open.

So, we’ll have to see which way the actual reform of the multi-stakeholder forum goes, but that will lead to, hopefully, better satisfaction and better outcomes from the stakeholders involved.

Barbara Allen

Thank you very much. I think we can squeeze in a couple of more questions. This is somewhat related to what said, Sanjay.

What non-legislative steps can be taken to improve transparency? I’m wondering: Helen or Andrew or Suzanne maybe have some ideas. What non-legislative steps can be taken to improve transparency?

Andrew Ecclestone

So, transparency is an interesting word. And it gets used – it gets chucked around a lot. But it’s almost seen as if you say “We’re open and transparent” that’s what’s happening. And it’s taken to be “We publish documents.”

But transparency is not an act of publication, it’s an act of communication. OK?

There’s no point just putting cabinet papers across 25 different government department websites if your intention is actually to communicate information to people.

And we saw this during COVID, when the government said, “Yeah we don’t want to have to send people to MSD, and to the Ministry of Health, and so on, to get the relevant information” that they needed in order to respond during that crisis.”

They set up a new website. Put all the information there, right?

And last year, the Public Service Commission and the minister, Chris Hipkins, took a paper to cabinet to say “We’d like to make some changes to how cabinet papers,” which – you know, big feather in their cap, and it is important, right: not many other countries are publishing cabinet papers – “how that happens.” And they said “We think this should be on a centralised website where everybody knows where to go, and to find these cabinet papers.”

And Cabinet said “No.”

And I find that mind-blowing. Because if you say we want to build a modern digital public service, and we want to make information available, we want to be transparent and communicate this information, a basic tool is: make it easy to find, OK?

And we see in privacy law a concept called a ‘privacy impact assessment’: How is a new policy or proposal going to impact on the privacy of people whose data is going to be collected? But we don’t have policy tools in this country called ‘information access assessments’. And just as we have regulatory impact assessments and human rights assessments when papers go to Cabinet, we could build into our policy processes, “How are we going to make sure that the information is available to people who need it?” “Is it the right information they need in order to participate, or to hold us to account?”

Barbara Allen

Does anybody else want to respond to that one? We are coming towards the end, and – oh sorry Sanjay!

Sanjay Pradhan

You know, actually there are many, many examples of non-legislative transparency measures which really empower people. You don’t need legislation. I’ll give you…

I like to think in terms of stories. So have you heard of the Bristol baby scandal any of you? Bristol baby skin so it was it was in the in the UK, and there was a Royal Infirmary in Bristol where an audit found that the mortality rates of babies was much higher in that hospital rather than other ones. Which was really shocking, because babies were dying, and it was it was actually lives babies lives at stake.

So medical doctors in that infirmary, not through any legislation, decided that they needed to start publishing mortality rates in these hospitals. Again, no legislation. That simple act of publishing mortality rates across hospitals then created a virtual competition where every infirmary had to publish these data. And this  was over a period of seven, eight, years.

When parents armed with this information – pure proactive disclosure – started taking decisions to take their baby, the babies, elsewhere, based on the information that they were getting – in terms of where the mortality rates were lower. There’s a whole study done that this actually saved a bunch of lives, if you just look at the statistical analysis that is done.

It’s a simple act of things, and it was accessible. In terms of what Andrew was saying, it was accessible, it was relatable, it mattered to the citizenry, mattered to the parents and they were able to take – So there are many such examples.

And Andrew, you’re an expert in right to information, but in most of these right to information things there is a clause on proactive disclosure of information. And there’s a lot more scope, I find, in reformers around the world when I go, where reformers decided “Look, I need to just publish this and arm citizenry so they can take their decisions.” So don’t wait for legislation: it’s a much longer process. There’s a lot more that reformers and activists can demand and reformers can do, which can save lives or do other good things that we want public services to do.

Barbara Allen

Thank you Sanjay. Excellent examples. I’m going to go slightly off piste. We’re near the end, so instead of me really wrapping up, I’d like all of our panellists – this is a bit of a risk – but no more than 20 seconds to give your final messages. You’ve already said them in some senses. Maybe there’s a sort of key thing you would like to tell everyone as we go out to have a drink. That’s a challenge, isn’t it? But who would like to start?

Andrew? No. Helen, would you like to start?

Helen Clark

There’s just one point that wasn’t developed much but is obviously quite important, and that’s where the charity law needs to go. And I think perhaps we need to draw on experiences of other, you know, like-minded countries as it were, as to how it’s designed, because it is somewhat stifling at the moment. 

You know, on the other hand, and I’ll show my bias here: I mean, is Families First, with the sort of activity it has, a charity? I mean where do you draw a line between those who are, you know, simply there for the sort of purposes they have, and perhaps more of a public interest purpose? So I’d be interested in seeing, you know, some more debate about the charity law and how it how it should be reformed.

Barbara Allen

Thank you. 20 seconds.

Andrew Ecclestone

OK, 20 seconds, wow, OK. Very quickly: Last week, the Prime Minister stood up and said we’re going to do a policy review on lobbying law. The OGP has, in its rules, the ability to add a new commitment to an action plan after it’s adopted: they call them ‘challenge commitments’. The Prime Minister should say, “We will put our policy development on lobbying law into our open government action plan and develop it with deliberative public participation.”

Because this law reform needs moral authority not simple, technocratic rules.

Barbara Allen

Thank you.

Suzanne Snively

So, going back to my three ‘E’s: effective, energetic, engagement. From the very beginning, when the recommendation was made that New Zealand join [the] Open Government Partnership, it was also recommended that there be a multi-stakeholder forum. And that it be well-represented by civil society. So I’d just like to leave that idea with everyone here: is let’s try to reduce passivity and complacency, and actually have dialogue, and put ourselves into positions where we don’t always agree with each other. And a multi-stakeholder form would be such a good way to move forward.

Helmut Modlik

I’ll double down on my efficacy observation, and just champion, I guess, the idea of strengthening our democracy through subsidiarity. When we couldn’t actually get the vaccine out to everyone – it wasn’t until trusted voices, faces, and places in the community were drawn into the ecosystem of civil society that we got anything approximating to effective ubiquity, right? So to me, the principle for change, going forward, is to think through, find opportunities to implement that principle of subsidiarity. And by definition, in my view, that will end up filtering back through the whole ecosystem and change it.

That would be my encouragement.

Barbara Allen

Thank you, Helmut. And Sanjay?

Sanjay Pradhan

So New Zealand really can be a global leader in democracy and openness that our world really needs today. But in order to get there, it needs to stretch in a few areas like lobbying, like beneficial ownership, and like improving its domestic co-creation process. With the collective efforts of all of you – as Suzanne said – gathered here, I’m sure it’ll get there, and it will be a shining star for us. Thank you.

Barbara Allen

Thank you very much to all the panellists. And there’s a pile of questions here. We only got through a few. We obviously need a lot more time. But that’s the extent of it for this evening. We have a few more minutes together outside. We will keep all the questions, and they’ll inform some of our panellists’ work, and we’ll take that forward.

So, ka mua, ka muri. This evening we’ve looked back in order to move forward. So let’s take that energy, and the passion for this topic, and really engage where we can, and move forward.

Haere rā. Thank you very much.

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