Alongside the Auditor-General’s primary function,
management and organisational issues. The
of carrying out annual audits for about 4000 public
Auditor-General’s office is not an avenue for
entities in the public sector, we are able to inquire in
resolving individual complaints or concerns about
detail into issues of concern that are raised with us.
how a public entity has handled a particular matter.
The Auditor-General is also an “appropriate
We examine each request to decide the most
authority” under the Protected Disclosures Act 2000.
appropriate way to proceed. We identify whether
This means that public sector employees who are
the matters raised suggest:
concerned that there may be serious wrongdoing
in their organisation are protected if they disclose
• financial impropriety,
information to us under the Act’s procedures.
• problems with the organisation’s overall
We deal with protected disclosures as part of our
governance or management, or
general inquiries work.
• other systemic or significant concerns that
may be important for the organisation, the
This inquiries function is discretionary. We receive
sector it operates in, or the general public.
many requests for inquiries each year, and choose
carefully which issues warrant investigation by
Other factors we consider include how serious
this office. No-one can make the Auditor-General
the issues are, whether we have the resources
investigate a matter. We make these decisions
and technical skills to consider them properly,
and whether the issues may be better addressed
through other avenues.
Inquiries can be large or small, cover a wide range
of issues, and take weeks or months to complete.
Larger inquiries can involve significant amounts of
The limits of our role
staff time and other resources, for both our office
In both audits and inquiries, our role is to investigate
and the entity we are investigating.
and to report our findings and our opinion. Our
We carry out inquiries on our own initiative or on
scrutiny and reporting helps hold public entities to
request from a member of the public, an employee,
account, and we can refer issues to other agencies
a member of Parliament, or another organisation.
for action. However, we do not have direct power to
However, we are not a general complaints agency.
change what an entity is doing.
When people ask us to inquire into an issue, it is
The types of issues we look at
important that they understand the limits of our
role. For example:
Our role as auditors of public entities affects how
we select matters for inquiries, in two ways.
We cannot intervene in decisions that public entities
are making, or the decision-making processes they
First, we can only look at issues relating to public
entities. We have no role in relation to the activities
of private individuals or private sector organisations.
• We cannot injunct or stop activities or
If a private organisation is receiving funding from a
public entity, we can look at how the public entity is
• We cannot make a binding judgement about
managing the funding relationship but not at what
the legality of actions.
the private organisation is doing.
• We cannot order redress or other remedies, or
Second, our focus is on the way public entities use
their resources, including financial, governance,
• We cannot direct a public entity to act on our
findings or recommendations.
“We choose carefully which issues warrant investigation by this office.
It is also not appropriate for us to take on the role
Step 3 – Write to us
of the entity or attempt to function as a court.
If you are not satisfied with the public entity’s
response and want to raise the matter with us,
• We will not substitute our views for those
please provide your request to us in writing. Give us
of elected or appointed decision-makers on
as much information as you can, including:
matters that are their responsibility (such as
• a factual description of the matter, and what
policy decisions by local authorities).
your specific concerns are,
• We cannot operate effectively as an appeal
• what steps you have taken to raise your
body for individual decisions that may be
concerns or resolve these issues, including
who you have been in contact with and the
• We cannot take on the judicial review
outcome of this,
function of the courts, by acting as a forum
• why you think the matter should be of
for detailed assessment of the legality of
concern to the Auditor-General, and
• copies of any relevant correspondence or
documents that may be helpful to us in
How to ask for an inquiry
understanding and considering the issues.
To ask us to consider an inquiry, please use the
You must tell us if you are an employee of an
organisation and are writing to us under the
Protected Disclosures Act 2000. You should also
Step 1 – Raise the matter with the entity
ensure that you have followed your organisation’s
If you are concerned about a public entity’s use of
internal procedures first. If you have not, that
its resources, first take your concern to the relevant
can affect whether the Act will protect your
public entity and seek its response. We will usually
inquire into a matter only after there has been an
Send the information to:
attempt to raise the matter with the public entity
The Controller and Auditor-General
Office of the Auditor-General
PO Box 3928
Step 2 – Are we the best authority to
consider your concerns?
Or you can email the information to
Before writing to us, consider if we are best suited
[Office of the Controller and Auditor-General request email].
to look into your concerns. There may be another
authority that is more appropriate or better able to
help you. You might also want to contact any central
government department that has responsibility
for the area (such as the Ministry of Education if
“Given the confidential nature of most of our
the matter involves a school or a tertiary education
work, the Official Information Act 1982 does not
apply to the Auditor-General
“We do not provide public updates on
Our inquiry process
progress or the substance of what we are doing,
We will acknowledge that we have received your
because this can hamper our work.
request within a few days.
If your concern is not suitable for an Auditor-
General’s inquiry, then we will reply to let you know
that we cannot look at it. Where we can, we will
When an employee raises a matter with us under
redirect you to another agency. We aim to let you
the Protected Disclosures Act 2000, we are obliged
know within 30 days whether it is an issue we can
to protect that person’s identity.
As a matter of policy, we apply the same approach
We classify the matters we can look at into three
to all the requests we receive. We think it is
categories – routine, significant, and major –
important that people should be able to ask us to
depending on how serious the issues are and how
look at whether a public entity is using its resources
much work is involved.
properly without fear or reprisal.
There are times when it is not possible to investigate
a matter properly without it becoming obvious who
A routine inquiry involves straightforward issues and
has raised it. In such cases we will check with the
can often be carried out by a review of documents
correspondent before we proceed.
or through correspondence and discussion with the
Given the confidential nature of most of our work,
entity. Often, we will carry out enough preliminary
the Official Information Act 1982 does not apply to
work to understand the problem and gain assurance
the Auditor-General. Instead, the Public Audit Act
that the issues are or will be addressed by those
2001 gives us a discretion on what information we
will publicly release.
A routine inquiry will usually not result in
a published report. We always advise the
Our policy on public and media comment
correspondent of our conclusions and the reasons
on current inquiries
for them, and in some cases we advise the public
If we receive a media query, we will confirm that we
entity of the matter.
have received a request and that we are looking into
We aim to complete routine matters within 3
an issue. For major inquiries, we will usually release
public terms of reference.
However, we carry out inquiries in private. We do not
Significant and major inquiries
provide public updates on progress or the substance
Significant and major inquiries involve more
of what we are doing, because this can hamper our
complex issues that require in-depth work. We
usually review the public entity’s files and may
In each case, we decide what information we should
formally interview people. We ensure that we
release at the end of an inquiry about our findings
comply with our natural justice obligations, by
and conclusions. For significant inquiries, we often
giving those affected an opportunity to comment
publish our findings on our website. For major
before we finalise our views.
inquiries, we will usually publish a report and table
We will usually report the results publicly, as well as
it in Parliament.
advising the correspondent of our conclusions.
We aim to complete most significant inquiries
within 6 months and major inquiries within a year.
Exploring other avenues
• Privacy Commissioner: complaints about
interferences with privacy under the Privacy
Other authorities may be able to help you:
Act 1993, such as refusal of access to personal
• State Services Commission: concerns
about the performance of public service
• Human Rights Commission: complaints about
departments, and integrity and conduct in the
discrimination on grounds such as age, ethnic
public service and the wider State services.
origin, and disability.
• Office of the Ombudsmen:
• Health and Disability Commissioner:
– complaints under the Ombudsmen Act
complaints of breaches of the Code of Health
1975 about “matters of administration”,
and Disability Services Consumers’ Rights,
such as an allegation of unfair treatment
concerning both publicly owned and private
by a public sector organisation or
other matter that affects an individual
• Parliamentary Commissioner for the
Environment: concerns that the environment
– reviews of decisions under the Official
may be, or has been, adversely affected.
Information Act 1982 or Local Government
• Commerce Commission: anti-competitive
Official Information and Meetings Act
behaviour by businesses, and false or
1987, such as a request for access to
misleading trading practices.
official information that has been declined.
Charities Commission: conduct in breach of the
• New Zealand Police or Serious Fraud Office:
Charities Act or serious wrongdoing in connection
fraud, which can include matters of criminal
with a registered charity.
misconduct involving a public office holder,
and related criminal proceedings.
Securities Commission: securities markets activities,
matters that may affect the interests of investors,
and possible breaches of securities law.