New Zealand Viewed Joining OGP as Resource Drain

20 December 2012

Joining the Open Government Partnership was viewed as a low priority and a potential drain on resources in a memo prepared in February 2012 within the New Zealand government.

New Zealand has not joined the OGP. This prompted Andrew Ecclestone, a researcher and consultant on freedom of information, to request documents relevant to the government’s deliberations on whether to become a member.

One document was provided. Although portions were not disclosed, the overall tenor is clear.

“The question of New Zealand’s membership of OGP is one of weighing the costs of engagement against risks of domestic and international criticism should New Zealand’s absence become glaring,” according to the Feb. 10 memo, written for Simon Draper, the director of the United Nations, Human Rights, and Commonwealth Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MAFT), by FInnian Chesire of his office.

 “Membership appears likely to place considerable demands on agencies other than MFAT, and as such a final decision on membership will need to be made with inter-agency consultation,” Draper said.

The top recommendation in a series of points is, “Maintain OGP as an overall low priority issue … given existing priorities.”

 A number of other items are redacted so as not to “prejudice to international relations,” but several other points in the memo suggest that the government should take maintain a low level engagement and to evaluate membership “once the scope, costs and risks of membership are understood.” The resource implications were being examined by an open government working group, the memo notes, which also says that the preparation of an action plan would require  “a whole of government commitment.”

The memo notes “some public interest in the OGP.” It states, “There are risks that New Zealand’s absence from OGP may become increasingly glaring as membership expands, especially given our existing reputation for transparency and openness in government.”

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