The Treasury is refusing to tell parliament which agencies aren't taking a disciplined approach to their investment spending.
In a tense exchange at Wednesday’s meeting of the finance and expenditure select committee, National Party MP Nicola Willis asked officials to stop skirting around the question and name some areas of investment Treasury had concerns with.
In a discussion on the government’s investment statement, Treasury deputy secretary Leilani Frew said all agencies had the tools they needed to evaluate investment proposals, but some were performing better than others in how they applied them.
When asked by Willis to specifically name some investment areas which were of concern, Frew said some agencies do a lot of capital investment and retained a workforce that could apply a more disciplined approach, while others didn’t have that same track record and needed more support.
When pressed to name names, Treasury secretary Caralee McLiesh intervened to say the purpose of the investment statement was not to provide specific advice around a particular agency's performance.
Willis told BusinessDesk she was disappointed Treasury had made comments in the investment statement about the need for better discipline but would not give any examples.
She said National’s investment concerns included the selection of shovel-ready projects, the commitment to light rail for Auckland and the delivery and scale of the state housing programme, but she genuinely wanted to hear Treasury’s views on the investments they were concerned with.
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“I'd love for the Treasury to say ‘No, we're really confident about what's happening with the level of housing investment’, but they refused to give me that level of detail today and so that leaves open questions over all areas of government spending.
“This is a government agency that people expect to be completely independent, to be transparent and accountable, and I think they fell short of those standards today.”
Frew suggested MPs could look at the proactive release of Treasury’s advice on specific investments to see where they have highlighted deficiencies in the value for money analysis.
In an earlier part of the meeting, National MP Andrew Bayly asked finance minister Grant Robertson if every budget bid was the subject of a “proper” cost-benefit analysis.
Robertson said they were “but not just of a very traditional cost-benefit analysis” explaining that the government used a “wellbeing” approach in its decision making.
He said “deliverability” of projects had been a key focus for the government in preparing Budget 2022, as well as alignment with government strategy and assessing value for money.
McLiesh said the government’s higher debt ceiling meant “very disciplined investment frameworks” were needed to ensure capital spending offered value for money.
She said budget templates ask for a robust cost-benefit analysis and “in many cases we have some good quality cost-benefit analysis,” but the Treasury would always like to see a lift in their quality.