This is the ninth public report in 10 years by an Auditor-General about spending on parliamentary and ministerial support. This sort of public sector spending has many challenges and attracts a great deal of attention, both in New Zealand and internationally.
I agreed to carry out the inquiry I report on here, because of the ongoing concerns raised about whether spending by Ministers was appropriate. The political leaders of any country must be accountable for their actions, and their spending should be able to be scrutinised in the same way as any other use of public funds. Equally, Ministers should be supported by financial management processes that help them spend public funds reasonably and appropriately.
Much of the recent public discussion and debate on parliamentary and ministerial spending has been about the appropriateness of individual decisions – whether particular transactions were within the rules, unduly extravagant, or simply inappropriate. I make clear at the outset that this report is not about individual items of spending. It does not name any Ministers or single out individual and identifiable decisions for criticism.
The Ministerial Services unit within the Department of Internal Affairs (the Department) is responsible for the support that is provided to Ministers.
In this inquiry, our aim was to assess whether the Ministerial Services system for managing spending that could give personal benefit to Ministers operates coherently and effectively. We looked at whether that system is able to provide effective support for Ministers and their senior private secretaries and enable effective management of this part of Vote Ministerial Services. We were not looking for more examples of mistakes or questionable judgement. We were looking instead at whether the rules and financial management processes were likely to minimise the chances of mistakes happening, and catch and correct any that might occur.