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24 October 2015
0n 20 September a most surprising thing happened.
I was emailed a Cabinet Paper dated 19 September 2016 titled Response to National Integrity Systems Report on New Zealand by Transparency International. This paper considered each of the 60 or so recommendations from Chapter 6 of Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment (2013 NIS) which was published by the New Zealand Chapter of TI in December that year. What a remarkable achievement – there is no other country in the world where the Executive Branch (Cabinet) of an elected Government has considered all the recommendations of a National Integrity System Assessment.
TINZ hopes, too, that our Cabinet has taken the time to delve into the comprehensive 372 page NIS itself. As well as covering the pillars of government – the executive, legislative, judiciary, public sector, electoral commission, law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies, ombudsman and the auditor general – the NIS also examines the integrity systems of the media, political parties, civil society and business.
Two innovations of the 2013 New Zealand NIS are that it weaves in the themes of environmental governance and Te Tiriti-o-Waitangi. These are examined as part of the foundations for the national integrity system. Environmental governance and Te Tiriti are also assessed individually and as key factors shaping the integrity of each of the 12 pillars.
The Cabinet’s NIS response is a deliverable as set out by the first National Action Plan (NAP) of Open Government Partnership (OGP).
So in considering its commitments as set out in its first NAP, the Government can tick off progress to action the NIS through the publication of the 19 September Cabinet Paper.
And indeed, the Government did progress some of the key NIS recommendation. These include signing up for the OGP and the ratification of UNCAC. Further, the 15 Acts resulting from the comprehensive Organised Crime and Anti-corruption legislation could be regarded as a contribution to the recommended development of a National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
In addition, between March 2014 and June 2015, there was direct communication between TINZ and relevant government officials about specific avenues for progressing about a quarter of the NIS recommendations. The challenge is that momentum was lost when it came to actually implementing the specified actions derived from the recommendations.
TINZ’s main concern about the 19 September Cabinet response is that there was no real indication that Cabinet had accepted the core message of the NIS which is: “it is beyond time for serious and urgent action to protect and extend integrity in New Zealand”. There has been a limited sense of urgency in regards to electoral management, the media or improving procurement capacity, several of the recommendations have been ignored or misunderstood, and the wide public consultation and participation that was called for the OGP has failed to eventuate.
So almost exactly a month on from my first surprise, on 20 October, I had a better surprise when State Sector Minister Paula Bennett published the Governments 2nd National Action Plan. As member of the OGP External Advisory Group, I was aware of the 7 commitments. These were whittled down from an initial 15 or so to those which are achievable, with implementation supported directly by officials leading time work plans with specified milestones and delivery dates.
My surprise this time is the foreword to the NAP written by State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes. It sets out a clear context that demonstrates strong support for the 7 NAP commitments, acknowledging the leadership of former Ombudsman, Dame Beverley Wakem and the co-creation of cross-government agency officials working with NGOs to develop the commitments. The Commissioner makes a strong promise to New Zealanders that more will be done to engage the public at every place and stage in a discussion about the role of our government and of the public service.
Capping off the day on 20 October, was the announcement of the cross-political-party appointment of Alicia Wright as Electoral Commissioner. Alicia demonstrated her strong integrity in leading the internal research at the Ministry of Defence for its contribution to the Government Defence Anti-corruption Index. NZDF scored an “A” for this index. Even having achieved a good score, Alicia helped the NZDF to focus on gaining self-knowledge and continuous improvement, identifying areas where it can still do better and specifying processes to do so. This is a real commitment by government to protecting and extending integrity.
Transparency International New Zealand Inc.