As far as I can tell, we have seen not a single pro-active release by the government or any of its ministries or agencies of any analysis or advice generated with those agencies and relevant to decisionmaking, or evaluation of decisions, on responding to the coronavirus, or the economic or social effects of the virus and private or public responses to (the risk of) it. Perhaps worst is the Ministry of Health, which appears to have a central role in advising the government, and exercising some powers itself: they have belatedly released some (questionable) Otago University modelling, and belatedly released the Verrall report on contact tracing, but we have seen not a word of their advice or analysis, or of any frameworks they are using to shape their advice.
It is no better on the economic side. On the purely economic response side, the Reserve Bank and its Monetary Policy Committee has appeared consistently complacent and slow to react, then lurching into the extraordinary commitment not to cut the OCR further no matter how bad the economic and inflation situation gets. But none of their supporting analysis or advice, for far-reaching unconventional interventions (and not), has seen the light of day – and, despite the Official Information Act, is unlikely ever to do so, successive Ombudsmen having proved extraordinarily deferential to the Bank.
On The Treasury side, pro-active release of papers relating to the annual Budget has long been a very positive feature. But we’ve seen nothing at all of the analysis and advice that contributed to the large economic package – some coronavirus related, some just electioneering – announced a month ago, or any of the interventions since. And, of course, we have seen not a hint of any advice or analysis provided to the government or the Ministry of Health in advance of either the inital partial lockdown decision or the latest extension of restrictions announced yesterday. Is there even a hint of any sort of serious cost-benefit analysis in The Treasury’s approach/advice? Are they even seriously near the top table at all? We simply don’t know. Even the economic scenarios paper released last week – useful in its way – masked as much as it revealed, because most of the underlying analysis – eg just how large are the economic losses at each of the government’s “levels” – is hidden.
And, of course, we have seen precisely none of the Cabinet papers – of which there must be very many, large and small, relevant to decisionmaking around the crisis over the last three months. The Epidemic Preparedness Act can only be invoked on the advice of the Director-General of Health, but we’ve not seen the substance of his advice or recommendation. We are told that yesterday Cabinet acted in accordance with the advice/recommendation of the Director-General, but we’ve seen no sign of that either – including, thus, no ability to assess the Director-General’s advice on aspects that he (and his agency) know precisely nothing about – not just the economic dimensions of choices, but those around liberty, rights, civil society and so on. It would be good some day to see, for example, the advice that led the government to acquiesce in the barbarism of banning funerals – and, recall, they are still banned until next week. At present, instead, we have nothing.
Reddell makes an excellent point. We’ve seen the most dramatic decisions of our lifetimes, and decisions that will costs tens of billiosn of dollars – and the Government has barely released any papers on which they made their decisions.