Part 1: Introduction

Being accountable to the public: Timeliness of reporting by public entities.

In this Part, we explain why it is important for public entities to meet deadlines for reporting on their performance.

We also discuss the deadlines for reporting for the various types of public entity. Most deadlines are set by legislation.

The importance of timely reporting

Reporting in a reliable and timely way is a cornerstone of public entities' accountability. This reporting includes:

  • the amount of public money spent;
  • the outputs delivered for that money; and
  • the results achieved.

If public reporting is not timely, the information presented is less relevant and proper accountability is difficult to achieve.

The Auditor-General is the auditor of all public entities in New Zealand. As well as looking at public entities' financial statements, our annual audits can also examine information about the public entities' performance in delivering services.

There are about 3800 public entities in New Zealand that are required to separately report and have their financial statements audited. These entities come in all shapes and sizes, from very large government departments (such as the Inland Revenue Department), State-owned enterprises (such as Transpower New Zealand Limited), and large local authorities (such as Auckland Council), to very small entities (such as a small rural school or the trust that looks after a local cemetery).

During the last 20 years, the quality and timeliness of external reporting has steadily improved. Reasons for the improvement vary, and include requirements for public entities to report to the Treasury (to support the government budget process and the preparation of the financial statements of government), good relationships between public entities and their auditor, and the Parliamentary scrutiny process (which includes the annual review of some public entities).

Time frames for reporting

For many public entities, legislation specifies the time frame for reporting. The deadline for reporting varies from three months to five months after the entity's balance date – and balance dates also vary. For other entities, the time frame and deadline are set out in their founding documents (such as trust deeds).

If a deadline for reporting or completing the annual audit is not specified, the Auditor-General sets a deadline of five months after balance date for the audit report to be issued.

Our analysis of compliance with reporting deadlines

No agency collects data on when all public entities publish their annual reports. We have information on the date that audited information is signed off by the auditor. In practice, there should be little delay between an auditor issuing an audit report and the entity inserting that audit report into its annual report and publishing it. Therefore, we have used the auditors' sign-off dates as our best measure of whether public entities are meeting their deadlines for reporting.

To provide an overview of the timeliness of reporting, we looked at the timeliness of audit reports due between 1 July 2013 and 30 June 2014. Any entities with audit reports issued after their reporting deadline but before 30 June 2014 were late in meeting their reporting deadlines. Entities with audit reports still not completed as at 30 June 2014 had audit reports that had not been issued.

Care needs to be taken in comparing the performance of different types of public entities. In drawing our line for analysis at 30 June 2014, entities that were late and had a reporting deadline at the end of May 2014 were one month late. Entities that were late and had a reporting deadline at the end of September 2013 were very late.

Although our analysis provides a snapshot of one year's reporting, the patterns are fairly consistent from year to year. Overall, entities have been improving their timeliness of reporting, but it has been more difficult for some than others.

To give some broader context to our analysis, we have also included some information on:

  • the status as at 24 March 2015 of those audit reports that had not been issued by 30 June 2014;
  • whether the entities that were late and whose next audit report was due to be issued between 1 July 2014 and when we ran our data update on 24 March 2015 were late again; and
  • whether the entities whose audit reports had not been issued by 30 June 2014 had previous audit reports that had also not been issued.

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