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Owner's Expectations Manual

5.8 Accountability

5.8.1 Select committees

  • Select committees have wide powers to require witnesses (including SOE employees) and officials to appear before them and to give evidence. Among other roles, they play an important part in assessing the performance of SOEs.
  • There are several reasons for which an SOE may appear before a select committee:
    • An SOE could be asked to advise a select committee on legislation under formation.
    • An SOE may wish to make a submission on a Bill as a witness.
    • A select committee may receive a petition from private citizens regarding an SOE, which may then be called in for a review.
    • Every select committee has the power to launch an inquiry, and could call an SOE in to provide evidence.
  • In addition, SOEs are regularly required to appear before the Finance & Expenditure Committee (or another select committee delegated by the Finance & Expenditure Committee) for a financial review. Normally the chair and CEO of the SOE are expected to appear before the select committee. It is not usual for external legal representation to attend. SOEs should view these financial reviews as opportunities, rather than impositions, to emphasise the importance of what they do.
  • Shareholding Ministers expect to be advised when an SOE is due to appear before a select committee. They also expect the boards and management of SOEs to be open and forthright in their dealings with select committees.
  • If the chair of an SOE has concerns about providing information to a select committee, shareholding Ministers expect these concerns to be raised with the committee, rather than refusing to provide the information. If, notwithstanding the SOE's concerns, the select committee requires the information to be provided, the chair may request that the committee receive the information as private or secret evidence. Chairs are encouraged never to refuse to answer a question outright.
  • Shareholding Ministers expect SOE boards and management to be aware of, and to familiarise themselves with, the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives before appearing in front of select committees. Boards may wish to consider obtaining specific training in this regard.
  • In particular, the Standing Orders provide rules relating to parliamentary privilege. Parliamentary proceedings are subject to absolute privilege, to ensure that those participating in them, including witnesses before select committees, can do so without fear of external consequences. This protection, enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act 1990, is an essential element in ensuring that Parliament can exercise its powers freely on behalf of its electors. There must be no pressure placed on individuals to deter them, or action taken against them as a direct consequence of their giving evidence to a select committee. Any such action might be regarded as contempt of the House, with potentially serious consequences for those involved.
  • Further information on select committees can be found in the State Services Commission's Officials and Select Committees - Guidelines and in the procedural guides - Natural Justice before Select Committees and Working with Select Committees on the New Zealand Parliament website.
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