Corruption-free status should be celebrated

July 20, 2014

New Zealanders should celebrate having the world’s least-corrupt public sector as keenly as they celebrate the success of the All Blacks, says the chair of Transparency International New Zealand, Suzanne Snively.

She was speaking at a national symposium on new approaches to governance, held at Massey University’s Albany campus recently.

Snively says a colour-coded world map illustrating New Zealand’s place on the spectrum of corruption rankings should be as prized as a poster of the All Blacks.

“We need to share this map on staff rooms and living rooms around the country,” she told the gathering of governance experts from public, private and not-for-profit organisations.

New Zealand scored first-equal with Denmark with 91 out of 100 points on the Transparency International survey on perceptions of public sector corruption in 177 countries and territories around the world.

She says while many people are under the impression New Zealand has high levels of corruption due to media coverage of high level cases, those cases were few and far between in global terms.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t treat all corruption seriously but it is important to keep it in perspective.

It is also important that we don’t rest on our laurels. Low corruption unfortunately isn’t no corruption.

However this relatively virtuous status has not been achieved deliberately, and she urged public, private and non-governmental sector organisations to be more proactive about preventing corruption.

Recommendations for this in Transparency International New Zealand’s recently published report include improving transparency and accountability systems.

She spoke of the need to reinforce factors that sustain our integrity as a “high trust” society. Among weaknesses identified by her organisation are a lack of transparency in political party financing and donations to individual politicians.

Snively, previously a partner in Public Sector Advisory at Pricewaterhouse Coopers’ Wellington office, and a regular analyst and commentator on New Zealand’s comparative economic position for over 25 years, says a “lack of focus” on good governance could lead to “economic crimes”.

As organisations increasingly operate globally, they encounter different cultural values and practices – such as ‘facilitation payments’ – that constitute normal business methods in some countries but are considered corrupt by New Zealand standards, she says. . . 

We must guard against lowering our standards to what might be considered normal elsewhere.

There are moral and financial reasons for ensuring we reduce corruption further.

It isn’t coincidence that countries with less corruption are wealthier and those where corruption is rife are poorer and with a far greater gap between rich and poor.

 

 


NZ’s reputation for integrity needs active protection

December 9, 2013

Transparency International New Zealand is calling for serious and urgent action to protect and extend integrity here.

A media release says:

A landmark  report released today on International Anti-Corruption Day, by Transparency International New Zealand has revealed that serious and urgent action is needed to protect and extend integrity in this country.
 
Transparency International New Zealand Chair Suzanne Snively said, “Recent incidents and investigations of corruption, and increasing public concern, provide a compelling case for a more pro-active approach to these issues.

“Transparency International New Zealand has completed an independent and in-depth assessment of the quality of transparency and accountability in the public and private sectors, and the integrity of New Zealand’s overall governance systems.

The Report titled ‘Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment’, was co-directed by Ms Snively and Murray Petrie, and was produced by a large team of independent researchers.

“An integrity system assessment takes stock of the integrity with which entrusted authority is exercised in New Zealand.
 
“Our report finds that the mechanisms that support a high integrity and high trust society, and that facilitate social and economic development, remain generally robust but are coming under increasing stress. There has been complacency in the face of increased risks”, said Ms Snively.

Mr Petrie said, “The greatest area of concern relates to political parties, and the interface between political party finances and public funding. Other key areas of weakness are the effectiveness of parliamentary oversight of the executive – there are gaps in transparency in a number of areas. 

“The report makes a large number of recommendations to strengthen transparency, accountability and integrity. These include the ratification of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the development of a comprehensive national anti-corruption strategy.  We also recommend  strengthening  the transparency, integrity and accountability systems of Parliament, the political executive (cabinet), and the public sector.

“New Zealand would also benefit from a more pro-active approach to the prevention of fraud and corruption”, said Mr Petrie.

Transparency International’s corruption perception index consistently shows New Zealand as a country with a strong reputation for clean government but that isn’t something about which we can be complacent.

There is room for improvement and doing that must be taken seriously.

The executive summary of the report is here.

New Zealand’s national integrity system remains fundamentally strong, and New Zealand is rated highly against a broad range of cross-country transparency and good governance indicators.

 Since the first NIS assessment of New Zealand in 2003, a welcome strengthening of transparency and accountability has occurred in some areas. The assessment found that the strongest pillars in the NIS are the Office of the Auditor General, the judiciary, the Electoral Commission, and the Ombudsman.

 

The Canterbury earthquakes represented a severe test of governance systems in terms of compliance with building standards and integrity in reconstruction, and (with two tragic exceptions, the collapses of the CTV and Pyne Gould Corporation buildings), systems have generally held up well.

However, New Zealand’s national integrity system faces increasing challenges. In key areas, passivity and complacency continue. New Zealand has not ratified the UN Convention against Corruption more than 10 years after signing it, and is not fully compliant with the legal requirements of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention more than 14 years after signing it.

Areas of concern, weakness, and risk do exist; for example, the relative dominance of the political executive, shortfalls in transparency in many pillars, and inadequate efforts to build proactive strategies to enhance and protect integrity in New Zealand.

The pillar that raises issues of most concern is the political parties pillar. The core message of this report, therefore, is that it is beyond time to take the protection and promotion of integrity in New Zealand more seriously. . . .

MMP has given far more power to political parties, most of which have very few members and are not broad-based.

The issues of most concern raised in this area must be addressed.

The full report is here.


Can’t be complacent about corruption

April 2, 2013

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.

 


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