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It's a good thing the Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Bill isn't a part of the All Blacks play list. Every time the Bill goes onto the Parliamentary Order Paper and gets close to the goal posts, the goal posts are moved. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait for another Rugby World Cup before passing this legislation that puts it in a position to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption.
We need the Bill passed into law to prevent the potential corruption from the tsunami of laundered money out there looking for a place to wreak its destruction. The Bill's provisions add needed muscle to the recent Anti-Money Laundering Act.
After passage it will take some time for the banks to get systems in place to meet the additional requirements.
Along with tightening currency regulations, the Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Bill contains a number of provisions that will strengthen our integrity systems. Passage of the Bill with unanimous support of Parliament would send a strong signal that Parliament is committed to maintaining New Zealand's reputation for good governance.
Aside from the lengthy delays in getting this Bill passed into law, we are also disappointed that this critical piece of legislation fails to make bribes in the form of facilitation payments illegal. In rejecting an amendment to the Bill—by one vote—Parliament chose to ignore small bribes with the unconvincing and undocumented claim that they are necessary for competitive business abroad.
Facilitation payments have been illegal for UK businesses abroad since 1988 without holding back business growth. On top of that, reputable business advocates such as Lee White, the new CEO of the now merged Australia/ New Zealand Association of Chartered Accountants (CAANZ), have argued for the need for legislation that clarifies facilitation payments are bribes.
The day when Parliament ran out of time for the third reading of the Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Bill, Thursday 22 October, was also the day the former Green Party Co-Leader Russel Norman gave his valedictory speech.
Breaking with the tradition of light-hearted farewells, Norman took the opportunity to ask questions about the lack of transparency in key government decision-making and operations, voicing his concern for the state of democracy.
“In my view the Official Information Act is relatively moribund now in New Zealand. It is very, very difficult to get information from the Government that the Government does not wish to release – that is a problem.”
Norman has a point, but his point was made to a House well down on its numbers with several ministers off to the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup.
While many of us were glued to our television screens for the RWC, the annual Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit was being held in Mexico City on 27 and 28 October. We understand that Minister Louise Upston represented the Government at this forum.
With a membership of over 60 nations, the OGP offers an opportunity to learn from other countries and measure our plan and results against the other participants. We expect the importance of a strong grassroots-led OGP National Action Plan will be one message from the forum.
New Zealand’s reputation as a strong democracy was hard won. Condoning little transgressions, such a permitting facilitation payments, stonewalled Official Information Act (OIA) requests, and inattention to the OGP objectives undermines what we have. Let's not fall behind the pack and instead aspire to win the lead. We are well positioned to win the integrity world cup every year but to win requires determination, hard work and focus.
Suzanne Snively, Chair
Transparency International New Zealand Inc.