As stated, Ministers as key stakeholders are accountable to the public interest. That interest has a particular dimension including Select Committees, Official Information Act requests (‘OIAs’) and Parliamentary Questions (‘PQs’). These all form part of the governance geography in the public sector and although board members may not be directly involved they need to be aware of these and similar requirements. Governors with private sector backgrounds need to be especially aware of these as they form part of some of the unique features of Crown governance.
It is good practice for boards to have a regular report at board meetings on OIAs and PQs and for suitable procedures to be in place to enable the Chair or another board member to be aware when the subject of an OIA or PQ is such that it should be drawn immediately to board attention (and possibly board action).
OIAs and PQs
Official Information Act requests are commonly made by Members of Parliament (particularly when in Opposition), their Research Units, the media and interested members of the public. Requests can be made to Ministers, their departments and often directly to the entity concerned. If it is to the former, then information may be sought from the entity.
Parliamentary questions are put by Members of Parliament to the responsible Minister who may ask the entity to provide appropriate information. The questions may be in writing and, if so, there is a reasonable time to answer. They may be Questions for Oral Answer for which notice will only usually have been received on the morning of the day the question will be asked in the House. In the latter case it is important that procedures are in place to enable accurate information to be provided in a very short time frame.
The information received may be used by Members of Parliament, particularly those in Opposition parties, to ‘’expose and oppose’’ in the public domain.
Parliamentary Select Committees
The most common exposure for Crown entities to select committees is in ‘Financial Reviews’ of an entity. These reviews give select committees the opportunity to review your entity’s performance. Reviews are usually on a 3-5 year reporting cycle so it would be usual for your entity to have to appear before a select committee only occasionally, if at all. The exception is a high public profile organisation such as Television New Zealand would be called to appear more frequently.
The purpose of the review is to ensure that public funds are used effectively or that the Government’s ownership interests are managed appropriately. The select committee will provide written questions in advance, but further questions may be asked on the day. It would be usual for the Chair and the CEO to represent the entity at Select Committee hearings. Boards should be given a full report of any review.
- The Select Committee pages of the NZ Parliament website provide excellent information.
- The Ombudsmen’s notes on Official Information Act matters.
- The Office of the Auditor General has a significant role in respect to Select Committees and this is outlined on their website at: https://www.oag.govt.nz/2017/mps-guide-to-the-auditor-general
Updated on 7th October 2019