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Finance Minister Willis calls for fiscal transparency
Tue, 2nd Jan 2024

New Zealand's Minister of Finance Nicola Willis unveiled measures aimed at boosting fiscal responsibility through greater transparency.

In a statement, she criticised the past government's fiscal approach, identifying it as 'unacceptable'. Willis blamed inadequate management strategies, characterised by high levels of public spending, on leaving the nation overly burdened with public debt. The excess expenditure of the previous government not only disturbed the state's fiscal balance but also impeded thrice the predicted return to surplus.

Willis observed that the previous cabinet consistently overspent the operating allowances. These appropriations, initially meant for budgetary use, saw the actual new spending regularly outmatch the planned amount. The surplus promised during Labours' Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update would never have reached fruition due to the fiscal missteps and financial "time-bombs," she said. The current coalition Government has, however, acted expediently to detach some of these unfunded fiscal dangers by withdrawing the Lake Onslow Project, Income Insurance Scheme, and promises related to Auckland Light Rail and 'Let's Get Wellington Moving' initiative.

It was underlined that despite the swift actions taken by the current Government, numerous 'financial time-bombs' await to be defused. Willis divulged the cost overruns in significant infrastructure projects like the iReX Interislander ferry. However, she highlighted that the previous government had only assigned $85 billion funding for the Transport Investment Programme posed to cost an estimated $288 billion.

Willis urged ministers to identify major capital projects that risk cost overruns or delays to aid the government in managing these ventures. She pinpointed "funding cliffs" left by the previous leadership where finite funding had been provided for vital policies or programmes despite the public's anticipation of continuity. The time-limited funding set for crucial Pharmac medicines was also addressed, suggesting that such oversights should be avoided in the future.

The Treasury has alerted Willis of an additional 20 instances of "fiscal cliffs" where cost estimates for the forecast period approach or exceed $50 million. The continuation of funding for these programmes would reportedly result in an indicative fiscal cost of $7.2 billion throughout the forecast period. Willis emphasised the necessity of costly policies and programmes, such as funding for period products in schools, to be sustained even beyond their prescribed funding periods.

The present Government will meticulously evaluate each of these financial hurdles in anticipation of Budget 2024. Willis assured that the Ministry of Finance will work to restore meticulousness and discipline in public funding. Despite the fiscal damage left by the Labour party, Willis displayed confidence in the Treasury's adherence to its obligations under the Public Finance Act.

To reinforce fiscal responsibility further, Willis has asked the Treasury to improve transparency on fiscal risks, ensuring a clearer understanding of upcoming fiscal challenges. The enhanced protocols would encompass an enriched classification of risks and an expanded disclosure of specific fiscal threats. Willis has also instructed the Treasury to include regular reporting on significant capital investments and a comprehensive list of all time-limited funded programmes in future updates.

In conclusion, Willis stated that after six years of Labour's economic and fiscal mismanagement, the current government is set on rectifying the chaos and reinforcing fiscal responsibility.