An Argentinean visitor looked out the kitchen window of our crib in Wanaka and commented on the absence of a fence between the lawn and the street.
She asked if we had a burglar alarm, camera or other security measures.
I said no and that sort of thing would be rare in most parts of New Zealand.
It isn’t like that in Argentina where most homes have alarms, bars on their doors and windows and most people use deadlocks even when they’re home.
The next day we were with an Argentinean who lives here and she told us of hosting two of her countrymen when one realised he didn’t have his money belt.
It contained not just money but credit cards and his and his brother’s passports.
One of their friends remembered he’d taken it off in a bar the night before. The host rang the bar and was told the manager had left a note saying she’d found a money belt the previous night and would take it to the police.
The tourists couldn’t believe that someone would be so honest and that the police could be trusted with the money belt and its contents too.
I am very pleased that we live in a country where most people are honest and are institutions are too but Transparency International reminds us that we shouldn’t be complacent about corruption.
The New Zealand public sector has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the least corrupt in the world. On the day of its 100th Anniversary, Transparency International (New Zealand) warns that there is no room for complacency in the quest towards higher standards of governance. Later this year, Transparency International NZ (TINZ) will publish its Integrity Plus National Integrity System report, which looks at twelve key institutional pillars covering Parliament, political parties, the executive, the judiciary, the public sector including local government, key watch-dog institutions, the media, law enforcement agencies, community and voluntary organisations and business.
“The fact that many government agencies are contributing funding to support the study indicates that the public sector also recognizes the importance of maintaining a high integrity society, and is not complacent about the risks to integrity in today’s more globalised world” says Suzanne Snively.
“National Integrity System studies have been carried out for the last 10 years or so, in countries all around the world” says Suzanne Snively, co-director of the research project for TINZ. “We conducted a study in New Zealand back in 2003 and, as with that study, we will again be going beyond a narrow focus on corruption to assess New Zealand against best practice standards of transparency and accountability, taking account of our unique constitutional and cultural features. Emergent findings are beginning to be identified. For example, the Office of the Controller and Auditor General and the Ombudsman are particularly strong in terms of transparency and accountability. TINZ welcomes the just announced increased level of resourcing of the Office of the Ombudsman”.
There have been significant developments in other areas of public life since the 2003 report as well, such as the creation of the Independent Police Conduct Authority in 2007, as well as in a number of areas where the 2003 Report recommended changes. These include the introduction of the State Services Commission survey of public servants, the strengthening of the governance framework of Crown Entities, the establishment of the Judicial Conduct Commission, the introduction of reporting of tax expenditures, and, updated codes of conduct for Ministers and Crown Entities in 2008. But the picture is not all positive with a number of concerns raised in the 2003 report remaining unaddressed, while new areas of risk to integrity have emerged.
“In this time of budgetary restraint” argues Suzanne “as the public sector faces reductions in funding, transparency and public engagement it is more important than ever to ensure that the best choices are made about effective ways to economise and innovate so that they impact in a way that improves service delivery”.
To test integrity systems, the NIS assessment includes some in-depth research into private sector organisations to assess the strength of their business ethics and processes. To compare them with the public sector, this means drilling down into specific areas such as exporting processes and financial transactions.
TINZ will be holding a number of events this year to engage with New Zealanders throughout the country to discuss its findings about public, private and community sector integrity systems. “All members of the public are welcome to go onto our website now and comment,” says Suzanne. “New Zealand’s reputation for integrity and anti-corruption remains high in the international arena, but that does not mean that it is perfect and it does not mean that it can’t be improved. Integrity in public life increases trust, which is essential to maintaining a healthy and participatory democratic country”.
We can’t expect our institutions and government to be more honest and less corrupt than society.
That depends on all of us maintaining standards and there is no room for complacency there, even in little things.
When my daughter and I were leaving the supermarket on Saturday we noticed a doll on a counter which looked like one our guest’s young daughter had been given.
When we got back to the house we asked if she’d lost it and were told she had.
I phoned the supermarket and said the doll on their counter belonged to our guests and we’d pick it up.
Our guest was amazed and said that if she’d lost a toy at home she’d never expect to get it back.
We didn’t get back to the supermarket that day and when I went on Sunday the supervisor couldn’t find the doll. She said she’d ask the staff who’d been on the day before and told me to call back.
I went back yesterday to be told no-one knew what had happened to the doll.
Perhaps someone else claimed the doll or maybe when we didn’t come back on Saturday someone thought we weren’t going to.
I wouldn’t call this corruption but I’m sorry that the impression of honesty our guests had isn’t quite as glossy as they thought and we hoped.