Part 8: Accountability for the Conservation Services Programme

Department of Conservation: Administration of the Conservation Services Programme – Follow-up audit.

Including more information in the annual plan

In our 2002 report, we identified a need for greater accountability and reporting of money spent and progress achieved on the Conservation Services Programme.

We recommended that the Conservation Services Programme’s annual plan include more information on research budgets, timetables, and progress against research objectives – especially for multi-year projects.

What progress has been made in implementing our recommendations?

The Conservation Services Programme’s Annual Plan 2004-05 included information on:

  • a project description, including objectives, term, rationale, and proposed output;
  • the total net cost of each project;
  • separately reported research9 and administration costs; and
  • separately reported industry cost and Crown cost (including information on the applicable fisheries cost recovery rule and fish stocks being levied).

The Conservation Services Programme’s draft Research Plan 2005-10 provides a 5-year preview of research projects that DOC is proposing. This plan includes:

  • name of the project;
  • the project’s priority, objectives, and intended year that it will be undertaken;
  • species or fisheries affected; and
  • indicative cost.

The progress of a project against research objectives is not addressed in the draft research plan. However, we note that the Conservation Services Programme’s Annual Report 2003-04 provides, to some extent, an update on progress against objectives of the projects referred to in the Programme’s Annual Plan 2003-04.

The Annual Plan 2004-05 states that a project’s duration is usually limited to one year, although some mitigation projects have a 2-year period. It also states that, with the exception of population studies on New Zealand sea lions, all multi-year contractual obligations will be concluded on 30 June 2004. This will allow the Conservation Services Programme’s strategic plan to guide the 5-year research plan and resulting annual plans, without the constraints of established contractual obligations.

This suggests there may be no, or considerably fewer, multi-year projects in the immediate future. If so, this will help to address the perceived lack of progress in reporting against objectives for multi-year projects.

In the Annual Plan 2004-05, some projects include the comment “to be reviewed annually”. The total cost of these “rolled-over” projects is not always clear. However, implementation of the 5-year strategic plan and the 5-year research plan should enhance future accountability. They are based on the policy objective that all research projects have clear end points, and that indicative overall costs for proposed projects are provided.

Our conclusions

DOC has taken steps to improve the level of accountability for the Conservation Services Programme. DOC is proposing to indicate the nature and extent of its research intentions 5 years in advance.

In our view, DOC could further improve accountability by accurately assessing and documenting the term of a project, so that overall resource implications are known from the outset.

If multi-year projects do occur, it is still our view that, as research progresses, it is reasonable to expect reporting on the costs to date and progress against the objectives.

9: Some of the research costs were estimated ranges.

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