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With the impending elections next month, a lot of energy is going into increasing voter turnout for local body elections. There is one major campaign aimed at increasing voter engagement by the Electoral Commission and LGNZ. TINZ has joined with others to host candidate events.
I can hear in my mind's ear widespread yawns in response to this opening line.
Not the "ho him crasher" first line my father told me is the way to engage an audience!
TINZ has initiated what it hopes is a new tradition of three yearly events to hear what candidates have to say about preventing corruption, ensuring transparency and accountability, building integrity and harvesting the benefits this good reputation entails through local council and regional development. This time around, TINZ managed to generate audience engagement in Wellington, Palmerston North, the Manawatu District and Auckland with groups in several other cities indicating interest.
Mayoral candidates at TINZ’s events have provided a refreshing range of interpretations about topics focused on what this means for local government and their communities. While some candidates would get a high score for preparing their homework on the topic of corruption, the general understanding of why preventing corruption matters for local government is below average.
Understanding how New Zealand’s reputation and brand is enhanced by local government democracy would receive an even lower score. There is a slight glimmer of knowledge that talented people are more likely to want to live here if their local government is regarded as interested in ideas such as the legitimacy of government and the quality of service provision supported by transparent procurement.
A surprising occurrence, however, has been the way that the word “transparency” has entered the lexicon. Candidates of every ideological school are committed to transparency, open data and open democracy.
While others are hosting local candidates for events, the New Zealand Institute of Directors Wellington Branch is hosting central government leaders. In August, Auditor General Lyn Provost took the opportunity to discuss how “high standards of public sector governance and accountability are essential to healthy democracies at both a national and local level.”
“Good governance and accountability need and support each other, and if done well, enhance the public’s trust in our system of government”, according to the Auditor General. “Good governance encourages and can result in good accountability. In turn, accountability is a vital element of good governance.”
This message and the experience with its recent mayoral candidate’s events has encouraged TINZ to plan ahead for next year when there will be opportunities to bring together the elected Mayors and central government parliamentarians running for seats in their regions. This year’s candidate events have shown that the candidates are familiar with accountability and even transparency.
Next year provides an opportunity to test what these mean in practice when there are intersects between central government initiatives and local interests.
Suzanne Snively, Chair
Transparency International New Zealand Inc.