The Public Interest is a funny old thing. What’s interesting to the public, namely the shape, size and subsequent world ranking of Kim Kardashian’s gluteus maximus, is not necessarily a thing that influences the general public’s interests, either from a financial benefit or loss, from a health and safety point of view, or a law and order point of view. Therefore if it’s interesting to the public, it may still not be in the public interest. Although it could be argued that Mrs Kardashian’s shape may have an overall beneficial effect on men’s mental health ever since she got voted best derrière in the world and her picture appeared on news websites that aren’t blocked by your company’s administrator. Therefore we must argue that things that do form a portion of the public’s interests are things that the government spends its money on because the government gets its money from us because we pay tax and that is a direct concern to our financial interests. We, as taxpayers, need to know not only what the big G is spending its cash on but how much they are paying for those pretty things that they have decided are necessary to run our glorious country. However the big G often hides behind four words: Commercial and in Confidence. If it’s commercial it means it has something to do with commerce, ie the business of transacting, and if it’s in confidence it means the deal has been supplied on the basis that no one else is to know the details other than the entities directly involved in the deal. Commercial in Confidence has replaced Classified, Private, or Secret because those words all denote some form of conspiracy whereas Commercial in Confidence is relying on our faith in capitalism in the sense that we must let business have its chance to make a buck and therefore be allowed to keep things in the closet. But since the government is rapidly farming out all of its services and procurement to private enterprises, how much more of our tax money will come under the umbrella of private information that hence becomes commercially sensitive and moves away from legitimate government expenditure that has to accounted for publically? For example, the IRD put out a tender last year for thin clients. The tender was long and complicated and split into two parts - the supply of the thin clients and the refurbishing of older PCs on the desks of many IRD offices around the country. The winners were Gen-i and Dimension Data. Gen-i got the refurbishment of the PCs while Dimension Data won the deal to supply a shed load of thin clients. The thin client specification called for was very detailed and could be narrowed down to just a few models. So the thing that really would have made the difference was the price of supply. However, that information remains commercially sensitive because despite a request lodged under the Official Information Act by this columnist to see the details of the contract, the Tax Department has deemed that information to be Commercial In Confidence, in other words, classified, secret, private. It seems that how our government spends our money is really not in the public interest after all.
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