Open Budget (NZ0005)
Open Budget We will ensure the Budget process is open and transparent and there is an accountable process for public participation. Objective: To promote public discussion/debate and participation through accessibility of the budget and include relevant groups outside of government in the formative phase of the Budget, ensuring they are informed about the process and issues. Status quo: The Budget can be perceived as a closed process between agencies and the Government and information is not regarded as accessible. The Government has begun work to ensure that Budgets become focused on outcomes for citizens rather than funding for agencies. Ambition: Making the Budget more accessible will promote discussion and debate. It will help ensure that central government spending is open and transparent. It will enhance public participation and confidence in the Budget process.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
We will ensure the Budget process is open and transparent and there is an accountable process for public participation.
Objective: To promote public discussion/debate and participation through accessibility of the Budget and include relevant groups outside of government in the formative phase of the Budget, ensuring they are informed about the process and issues.
Status quo: The Budget can be perceived as a closed process between agencies and the Government and information is not regarded as accessible. The Government has begun work to ensure that Budgets become focused on outcomes for citizens rather than funding for agencies.
Ambition: Making the Budget more accessible will promote discussion and debate. It will help ensure that central government spending is open and transparent. It will enhance public participation and confidence in the Budget process.
- Ask key stakeholder groups how the Budget could be made more accessible
- Invite feedback on the previous Budget – this means making it available in forms people can engage with, which could include machine readable data, plain English published material and visual presentations
- Provide Budget data in machine readable form – this could include open source formats
- Work with agencies that have expertise in presenting Budget data in ways that make it easy to understand.
Responsible institution: The Treasury
Start date: October 2016 End date: May 2018
The government aimed to make New Zealand’s budget more open, accessible, and understandable. This action would promote wider public discussion and debate on monetary and fiscal matters. It would also promote more public participation in the budget process. In particular, the commitment set out to provide budget data in machine-readable formats. The government would seek initial feedback from stakeholders on how the budget could be more accessible and then work with agencies with expertise in presenting budget data.
The Treasury released open government research findings that identified shortcomings in the transparency of and engagement with the budget process. These included stakeholder and citizen-based recommendations for budget development and communication (Milestone 1). The Treasury published three Budget 2017 “At-a-Glance” documents written in English. The Budget.govt.nz website offered documents and data consistent with Budget 2016 data and interactive charts and features (Milestones 2 and 3). Similar work was planned for Budget 2018. Toward the end of the midterm, the Treasury began exploring ways similar government agencies in other countries presented their budget data and documents (Milestone 4). For more information, see the 2016–2018 IRM midterm report.“Independent Report Mechanism (IRM): New Zealand Progress Report 2016–2018,” Open Government Partnership, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/New-Zealand_MidTerm_2016-2018.pdf.
End of term: Substantial
The Treasury completed all commitment activities planned for Year 2 except for the work with other agencies with expertise in presenting budget data and documents (Milestone 4). It released on its two websites a mini-budget in December 2017 and Budget 2018 in May 2018. The mini-budget included a Families Package document written in English. In addition to the regular budget documents, Budget 2018 included one “At-a-Glance” document. It also included budget data workbooks containing appropriation expenditures and Crown revenue and capital receipts. The Treasury explained that this “raw data has been made available to allow anyone to filter, sort and manipulate the data for their own purposes.”“Budget 2018 Data from the Estimates of Appropriations 2018/19,” Information Supporting the Estimates of Appropriations, the Treasury, https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/ise/Budget-2018-data-estimates- appropriations-2018-19. The government released a new feature, an open data table of total Crown expenditure data. It described this disclosure “as part of New Zealand’s commitment to the OGP, to make a difference to openness, transparency and accountability of the Budget.” “Functional Classification of Core Crown Expenses,” Spreadsheet Model, the Treasury, https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/model/functional-classification-core-crown-expenses. “Core Crown” is a reporting segment consisting of the Crown, departments, offices of Parliament, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and the Reserve Bank.
The Treasury placed an online survey on the Budget 2018 website seeking feedback from data users. The survey asked what information they accessed, whether the format was appropriate, whether they found what they wanted, and how usability could be improved. The Treasury noted that this feedback “will then be taken into consideration for future Budgets.”“2018 Budget Survey,” Budget 2018, https://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/2018/documents-data.htm. As of 14 November 2018, the survey was closed. The budget website clearly displayed open licensing (the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence) and used permanent URLs for long-term accessibility.
The Treasury addressed the Milestone 4 work in its final quarterly report to the Expert Advisory Panel. It noted that work with those having “expertise in presenting Budget data in ways that make it easy to understand” was not “fully completed due to competing priorities in delivering Budget 2018.”Ibid.
Did It Open Government?
Access to Information: Marginal
Civic Participation: Marginal
The 2017 Open Budget Survey (OBS) again ranked New Zealand’s budget, together with South Africa, first in the world. The country scored 89 out of 100 for transparency. The OBS, in line with its earlier advice, recommended increasing the reporting on taxation expenditures and improving the design of the Citizen’s Budget.“Open Budget Survey 2017,” New Zealand, International Budget Partnership, https://www.internationalBudget.org/open-Budget-survey/results-by-country/country-info/?country=nz, released January 2018, accessed 11 August 2018; email comment to the IRM researcher from Jonathan Dunn, the New Zealand reviewer on12 August 2018.
With respect to access to information, between 2016 and 2018 the Treasury has improved access to its budget documents. It has enhanced their content and variety to attract a wider group of readers and users. It has also disclosed a very small set of Crown expenditure data in an open format. The Treasury noted that the release of the Crown data paved the way for further releases of budget data. However, economists who researched the Budget 2018 documents and published online commentary on monetary and fiscal matters were unaware of the Treasury’s work to improve the readability of the budget. The IRM researcher sent a five-question online questionnaire on 7 July 2018 to online commentators on the 2018 budget. These commentators were identified from a Google search.
The data journalists with whom the IRM researcher spoke expressed more awareness of this work. One of New Zealand’s long-standing users of budget data to create online visualisations reported:
“a lack of consistency in categories over the last ten years. Every year data is treated separately making year on year comparisons impossible. Also, in 2018, the primary output is still through Excel spreadsheets which are not the primary machine-readable format. The detailed explanation on appropriations is not available in these and is instead published as PDF/Word doc on separate pages.” Survey response to IRM researcher from Harkanwal Singh, Element Data Studio, 12 July 2018.
The IRM researcher concludes that the improved access has brought only marginal change in government practice. The government does not publish the official budget documents and the raw budget data workbooks from the same final and official budget source. Thus, it seems likely that releasing the official budget data in open formats would require a major information system change at the Treasury.
With respect to civic participation, this commitment has resulted in marginal changes in government practice in engaging the public regarding budget participation.“Open Budget Survey 2017,” New Zealand, International Budget Partnership. Between 2016 and 2018 the government encouraged civic participation in this process through a 2017 stakeholder survey of 35 selected members of the public. The ongoing survey on accessibility of the budget’s open data constitutes further action, See survey at https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/Budgets/Budget-2018; Survey Monkey link to now-closed survey, https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Z6DVVZT. but the Treasury did not publicise this survey through its regular media channels. One former senior government official interviewed by the IRM researcher observed that this survey “does not represent civic participation unless fully publicised.” Interview with former senior public servant, 1 August 2018
The government’s self-assessment of the 2016–2018 action plan states that its uncompleted work with agencies with expertise in presenting budget data is underway. It plans to release any proposed changes in Budget 2019. The IRM researcher recommends that the Treasury reports its progress through the State Services Commission’s OGP progress reporting process.
The IRM researcher recommends that the government further consider the midterm recommendations for improving access to budget information. Those recommendations included setting standards, such as using internationally comparable data classifications, and keeping raw data consistent over future years. The SSC’s OGP Expert Advisory Panel has called for open government performance to be added to the well-being indicators being developed by the Treasury. This is a recommendation from the Expert Advisory Panel to the IRM researcher, 9 January 2019.
Two of the IRM’s budget-related recommendations for the next action plan are already underway. The government has completed the consultation phase of the taxation review.“Future of Tax,” Tax Working Group, https://taxworkinggroup.govt.nz/have-your-say-future-tax, accessed 4 August 2018. Also, the government’s consultation on its new, independent fiscal policy advisory body commenced in August 2018.“Establishing an Independent Fiscal Institution,” Consultation, the Treasury, https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/consultation/establishing-independent-fiscal-institution, accessed 13 January 2019.
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