Annual report 2022/23

Improving public accountability

Public accountability is about public organisations demonstrating to Parliament and the public their competence, reliability, and honesty in their use of public money and other public resources. A robust public accountability system is vital to maintaining trust in the public sector and showing what has been achieved with the spending of public money.

We have carried out work looking at the effectiveness of the current public accountability system and have published reports on how it can be improved. Part of this work included commissioning and publishing a report on Māori perspectives on public accountability.

Case study: Māori perspectives on public accountability

Trust in the public sector is driven by a range of factors. Māori have lower levels of trust in the public sector than other New Zealanders.

We commissioned research, guided by kaupapa Māori principles, to learn more about the range of views that Māori hold about public accountability.

The findings are important for all public organisations seeking to build and maintain trust and confidence with Māori. Forming closer connections, actively listening, learning about Māori worldviews, and continuing to ask what else can be done can all contribute to building more trusting relationships between Māori and the public sector.

The findings also have implications for how our Office carries out its role and the impact we can have on public sector accountability and on matters of significance to Māori.

Influencing improved performance reporting

For performance reporting to be meaningful, it needs to clearly explain what is being delivered, the difference that is being made for New Zealanders, and how much these services cost.

We have continued to influence improvements in public organisations’ performance reporting by providing good practice guidance and seminars, promoting this guidance through our relationships with senior leaders and governors of public organisations, and briefing parliamentary select committees about the quality of performance information in annual reports and budget documents.

System constraints are affecting public accountability

Our efforts highlighting the need for effective public accountability to support better outcomes for New Zealanders have been amplified in two recent reports by the Productivity Commission and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.2

The reports identify systemic gaps and barriers that are preventing our public accountability system being fully responsive and effective. Identified issues include barriers to informed debates, scrutiny, and innovation, mixed effectiveness in meeting Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities, the absence of a community voice, and the lack of robust performance information.

We have for some time been concerned with the apparent difficulties the public sector has in connecting with an increasingly diverse society. The Auditor-General has made it clear that without legislative change we are unlikely to see sustained improvement.

We are concerned that it is often not clear to Parliament or the public what outcomes the Government is seeking when it uses public money. In 2021/22, central government spent about $160 billion. In November 2022, we wrote to the Officers of Parliament Committee expressing our concerns about the transparency and accountability of public spending on new initiatives. We proposed that change is needed to the Public Finance Act to help give Parliament and the public better visibility of the outcomes a government is seeking and the progress it is making.

Parliament has responded to these concerns. The Standing Orders Committee has recently recommended the establishment of a parliamentary select committee in the next term of Parliament to conduct an inquiry into performance reporting and to make other changes to the scrutiny role that Parliament plays.

Case study: Review of the Provincial Growth Fund reset

In June 2023, we wrote to the Economic Development, Science and Innovation Committee about how Kānoa-RDU managed the repurposing of $640 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to help regions in New Zealand recover from the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although some aspects of Kānoa-RDU’s management of this process were consistent with good practice, other key elements were not. For these reasons, we were not certain that Parliament or the public could have confidence that the investments made through the Provincial Growth Fund reset will ultimately represent good value for money.

2: These two reports are discussed in a speech by Dr Ganesh Nana, A Fair Change for All: Breaking the cycle of persistent disadvantage – Launch of final inquiry report on 20 June 2023 at Wellington Museum, at, and our blog post “Report from Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reinforces need for effective public accountability”, at