Spending transparency

June 9th, 2012 at 9:31 am by David Farrar

The Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance writes in the SMH:

It is a foundational principle of good governance that taxpayers should know how their money is being spent, and governments should be as open as possible. Taxpayers who wish to discover how their money is being used must trawl hundreds of pages of budget documents and submit time-consuming and costly freedom-of-information requests. Even then, information is scant. Ask any journalist. And these requests, as a Herald report showed on Monday, could be rejected in future as certain parliamentary departments are rendered exempt to FOI laws.

But it does not have to be this way. A transparency revolution is under way overseas, empowering citizens, opening governments to scrutiny, and transforming governance.

In 2006, in the US, the senators John McCain and Barack Obama co-sponsored the US federal funding accountability act. Its premise was simple: that taxpayer expenditure be placed online in an easily searchable database, so all taxpayers can find out how their money has been spent.

I have long advocated this for New Zealand.

Since then, the City of London, the European Union and 38 US states have enacted similar online portals – many with no thresholds, so every cent of taxpayer expenditure is publicly available. In some cases, literally every expense of government is made public after being entered into a database.

The benefits are obvious: not only are taxpayers empowered, but also savings can be easily identified, waste exposed and unethical behaviour discouraged. Those who want spending to remain hidden might argue that informing people is too costly, that it just cannot be done. But international experience proves this to be false. The website usaspending.gov, which provides the details of all US federal government expenditure of more than $US25,000 ($25,800), cost less than $1 million to set up – and the software is now available free of charge in the public domain.

This means it could be implemented in New Zealand very easily. You just need each government agency to exports its payments data into it.

Citizens have been searching these websites in record numbers. In Missouri, with a population smaller than NSW, 15 million hits were reported in the first year. Millions in savings have been identified. To use just one example, Texas reported $8.7 million in savings directly attributable to their transparency website in just the first year of operation.

Opening the government books to an army of online citizen investigators has uncovered waste and duplication, and made junkets or pork-barrel spending near impossible. Corruption and rorting cannot occur when the records are freely available – sunlight truly is the best disinfectant.

Another reason to support it.

16 Responses to “Spending transparency”

  1. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    I agree entirely. We should get detailed pie graph as to where taxes go.
    Another (transparency matter) is why do we have to pay $15 to find out who owns houses in your neighbourhood? This only benefits investors and the agency which sells the information.

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  2. wreck1080 (5,020 comments) says:

    I want to see receipts!

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  3. UpandComer (665 comments) says:

    I bet you a million bucks of taxpayers, make that 100 millions bucks of taxpayers money, that Labour if they win, will not implement this idea. No way will they do it. Only National would do this.

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  4. Viking2 (14,374 comments) says:

    Well its been on the radar for ever but our pollies simply don’t want to be accountable. Imagine if we really knew how much koha was passed around or whatwas spent on travel when tele conferencing has been around forever.
    No we will plod on in the dark becuase National will never have enough balls to do what’s right.
    Would Parata have done whta she did had their already been FULL transparency?
    Would McCully made a fuckup of his efforts if people had the information have made better decisions andbeen held publicly visible for those decisions?

    Equally this should apply to local bodies. Who should be much more accountable to “RATEPAYERS” as compared to regisitered voters who will always accept any money spent in their favour.

    Imagine the change of attitudes if we really knew what lack of youth rates cost NZ as benefits etc for that group and the equally large group that fill our schools because they are to expensive to employ to train.

    Its a basic communication strategy that needs implementing now.
    But isn’t that Amy Adams portfolio.
    And she is off travelling the world instead of getting stuff done.

    No need to travel to Korea to do this stuff. 1 hour in the Beehive should be all it takes, but no fun in that.
    No wonder we are stuffed.

    When are the Nats, going to focus on their core job?

    Making NZ wealthy.

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  5. Viking2 (14,374 comments) says:

    Up and Comer.
    Doubt you are right.
    ACT was the only party that would have had this working before now and the Nats. just won’t.
    By the way we should be like Norway(I think it is.), and include all Govt. correspondence on line as well.

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  6. trout (1,132 comments) says:

    And must be extended to Local Government. The rorts and mindless extravagance have gone on for too long.

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  7. East Wellington Superhero (1,143 comments) says:

    It is a very good idea. There would be a degree of media silliness in the first years of it but eventually the public service would get used to it. Some might argue that organisations would be crippled by paperwork or crippled by inaction due to fear of the media reporting things out of context. Perhaps. But I doubt it, and the media and public service would eventually mature. Eventually public service managers would be confident to say we spent x on y for a good reason. But moreover, who cares if some public servants get embarrassed – it’s taxpayer money. They have an almost sacred duty to spend it on our behalf, so transparency is vital.

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  8. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    This MUST be brought in, and for both national AND local government spending.

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  9. mudrunner (107 comments) says:

    Yes, for national and local government and any organistaion that is significantly funded by either source.

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  10. Tautaioleua (431 comments) says:

    People still question the AUTHENTICITY of the data on these websites, it’s no magic fix by any stretch of the imagination.

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  11. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    I recall a comment on Frogblog about the PSA: “nothing gets done if those clerks don’t approve” (thieves of democracy)?

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  12. Viking2 (14,374 comments) says:

    ACC refuses interviews about latest breach

    Saturday, 9, Jun, 2012 7:46AM

    ACC is refusing to give interviews about its latest privacy breach.

    High Court papers reveal the corporation has taken legal action to stop a man releasing another ACC client’s details, which were sent to him by mistake.

    ACC chief Ralph Stewart has turned down a request for an interview about the matter.

    In a written statement ACC says the case relates to a privacy breach which happened in 2008, but was only brought to its attention this year.

    ACC says it sought an injunction to prevent the material being released, and has now recovered the information.

    Meanwhile secrecy is shrouding just what ACC Minister Judith Collins was told, and when, about the Bronwyn Pullar privacy breach saga.

    Earlier this year Newstalk ZB requested copies of all correspondence the Minister received relating to Ms Pullar’s December meeting with ACC after Ms Collins indicated she’d only advised of the issue in March.

    But ACC is citing privacy and confidentiality of advice as its reasons for not releasing any of the information it gave the Minister, or documents considered and prepared by its own senior managers.

    It’s also citing the ongoing inquiry by the Privacy Commissioner as a reason for withholding documents.

    Another damm good reason.

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  13. hj (8,596 comments) says:

    I don’t want people to know I’m on ACC for a bad back. The neighbours might see me lumping rocks around.

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  14. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    Does anyone get the impression that we have far too many little turds posing as CEO’s etc. of Quasi Government Organisations/Councils/ SOE’s than is healthy for a tiny outpost of 4.4 million souls?

    All of which hide behind privacy laws!

    The privacy aspect is of course to hide their fucking incompetence! 🙂

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  15. Johnboy (20,828 comments) says:

    While we are speaking of financial matters perhaps one more qualified than I might explain why JK kept the retard from Dipton on as Minister of Finance.

    Was it fear or is JK so dumb in financial matters that he thought English was a genius? 🙂

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  16. DJP6-25 (1,782 comments) says:

    It’s definitelty an idea whose time has come. Especially for quango, and local body expenses.


    David Prosser

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