Auditor-General’s further damning assessment of the Government’s financial transparency

The Auditor-General has today agreed with National that this Labour Government’s Budget documentation falls well short of basic requirements for public transparency around the use of taxpayers’ money.

In August, National’s Shadow Treasurer Andrew Bayly and Finance Spokesperson Michael Woodhouse wrote to the Auditor-General, asking him to investigate what appeared to be serious oversights in the Government’s Budget documents.

“The Government allocated huge amounts of taxpayer money to spend, but on numerous instances failed to identify in its Budget documents what actual initiatives that money was to be used for,” says Bayly.

“The requirement for the Government of the day to clearly identify where and how it is spending taxpayer money is the entire point of a Budget.

“It’s fundamental to the way New Zealand’s system of checks and balances works. This information is needed for the media and Parliament to be able to hold the Government to account for its spending decisions.”

“Vote documentation issued as part of the Budget is supposed to transparently show why an appropriation has changed.  Appropriations usually change because a new policy initiative is being introduced and funded, or an old one discontinued.

“For example, in 2020 the Government announced a $100 million initiative to boost control of wilding conifers.  This is an important programme with a huge amount of funding. The Vote documentation is supposed to identify this initiative within the relevant appropriation. 

“Only then can MPs and the public see that the funding is actually there for the programme.  This is a mandatory Treasury requirement for departments to follow when preparing their Vote documents.  But in this case, and several others that we’ve found so far, the information was omitted.

“By leaving out detail in this way, the Government has effectively made it impossible for MPs and the public to know what the funding is going to be used for and whether initiatives like this one actually get any funding at all.

“The Auditor-General’s response, which has been made public today, is damning and reinforces previous concerns the Auditor-General had around the transparency of some of this Government’s major spending programmes.”

Some of the failings the Auditor-General noted include:

  • Initiatives that “should have been included in the New Policy Initiatives and Current and Past Policy Initiatives tables but has been omitted”
  • Announcements that “[do] not identify which Votes or appropriations will provide for this expenditure, nor… the number of years over which the funding will be allocated”
  • Initiatives where the Auditor-General was “unable to identify any specific references in the Budget documents that correspond to this specific funding announcement”
  • Announcements where “the titles of the initiatives announced by the Minister differ from the titles used in the Budget documents”
  • “Funding referred to in the Minister’s announcement” that was included in headline information but “it was not possible to identify it because of inconsistency in the terminology used”

“Like National, the Auditor-General has had similar concerns with the Government’s Covid Response and Recovery Fund,” says Bayly.

“Grant Robertson needs to front up and explain why he allowed this to happen, and to take urgent action to fix it.

“He needs to require his Cabinet colleagues to review their Vote documents and to re-issue them wherever the required financial information on policy initiatives is missing.

“Just because Grant Robertson doesn’t like being transparent with taxpayers’ money doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s exactly why he must.”

You can find a copy of the letter from the Auditor-General here.