Local is real. Small nation integrity assessments

Julie Haggie (CEO TINZ) and Joseph Veramu (Executive Director Integrity Fiji) have been working together on a paper looking at the elements that challenge and support the application of the National Integrity System (NIS) Assessment model to the Pacific. Their aim is to add to the general discussion on this topic.

The development of this paper was supported through funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). It was prepared with a small financial resource but with considerable input from others. 

The NIS Assessment is a tool developed by Transparency International (the global body). Over one hundred countries have conducted an NIS assessment since its inception at the start of this century, almost half of which used the more refined methodology developed in 2009 by New Zealander Jeremy Pope.

The traditional NIS assessment evaluates key ‘pillars’ in a country’s governance system, such as judiciary, public sector, media, both in terms of their internal corruption risks and their contribution, as integrity systems, to preventing and fighting corruption in society.

The rationale for this is that strengthening the National Integrity System promotes better governance across all aspects of a society and contributes to a more just society.

The NIS analysis is quite structured, but is undertaken via a consultative approach, involving anti-corruption agents in government, civil society, the business community and other sectors. Conclusions are drawn together in a comprehensive national report to build momentum, political will and civic pressure for relevant reform initiatives. This has been the case with both of New Zealand’s full assessments in 2003 and 2013.

Small and relatively isolated nations present challenges when applying an NIS assessment model, with all its pillars. For example in small island nations, government functions are often integrated and centralised. Many nations do not have a fully functioning mainstream media.

In Pacific Island States, there is often a disjoint between how well the pillar concepts fit with local culture. Cultural institutions, for example, especially in Melanesian and Polynesian nations, have a strong influence on ethical practice, such as the Fa’amatai in Samoa or the Fijian Chiefly system. 

Transparency International New Zealand faced this challenge when trying to incorporate the Treaty of Waitangi and tikanga within the integrity systems in New Zealand.

Perspectives and conclusions

Our joint paper offers perspectives and several conclusions. Julie and Joseph suggest that small nation NIS assessments should be flexible enough to capture governance and integrity elements unique to the nations, as well as the country context. 

NIS Assessments should account for such things as relative progress for emerging democracies, size elements that affect centralisation and context. This includes contextual vulnerabilities that can impact upon integrity resilience, such as environmental degradation; disaster risk, regional power dynamics; aid dependencies’ economic shocks, stubborn poverty and inequity; distance; digital poverty and variable literacy.

Civil society is vitally important to national integrity, and so a core element of any NISA for Pacific nations needs to be the interplay between public awareness and expectation, and the effectiveness of the institutions of integrity. Civil society also plays a vital role in the development of roadmaps for change, and in monitoring of recommendations.

Globally chapters are looking at how to adapt the NIS model to their contexts. The recent Transparency International Australia assessment considers functions rather than pillars. We think this offers a positive way forward to address the challenges, whilst still respecting the robust methodology.

The discussion paper is available on TINZ website, comments are welcome.

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