Governments ‘could benefit’ from high levels of transparency championed by New Zealand, Treasury chief says

By on 31/05/2015
Gabriel Makhlouf speaking at Global Government Forum's Global Government Finance Summit in Singapore.

Governments around the world could benefit from introducing higher levels of transparency similar to those in New Zealand where civil servants’ advice is published, the head of the New Zealand Treasury has said.

Gabriel Makhlouf, who joined the New Zealand government as a senior official five years ago, after 15 years as senior civil servant in the UK, told Global Government Forum that the openness of the New Zealand government has been “overall a positive experience”.

According to the Official Information Act, all advice given to ministers is generally made public in New Zealand once a decision has been taken, whereas in the UK this information is not publicly available.

Asked what the advantages of such an approach are, Makhlouf, who is the New Zealand government’s chief economic and financial adviser, said: “The public, if they want to, can see what the arguments were for a particular decision, they can see the different trade-offs that governments inevitably have to make, and they’re better informed.”

He added: “I think other countries – even the UK, which is rated highly by Transparency International’s financial transparency index – could benefit from that degree of transparency, which is a good thing at the end of the day. I mean, sure there are costs to operating a system of publishing advice and one needs to think about how you actually administer a system like that, but the principle of transparency I think is a positive thing.”

While he said “you need a safe space to consider issues, [meaning that] if issues are under active consideration, papers don’t get published,” he said that “once the decision’s taken, the philosophy here is [to publish], and we insist that the advice is made public.”

Makhlouf will have all of his advice to the drafting of the government’s budget published “within a couple of months” after the budget was announced on 21 May.

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World – the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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