Over the past two years, TINZ has been monitoring progress towards implementing the recommendations made in its 2013 National Integrity System (NIS) assessment and updated these recommendations in 2018.
Unfortunately the past two years have been anything but business as usual, and as it’s easy to let one’s judgement be clouded by immediate past experience, this note looks at some of the earlier progress as well as that made in the period covered by the monitoring exercise.
Seven 2013 Recommendations
The 2013 NIS assessment made seven recommendations and numerous sub-recommendations.
Some of these were well on the way to implementation even before the assessment was published – notably the decision to join the Open Government Partnership and the passing of legislation that would enable New Zealand to finally sign up to the UN Convention Against Corruption. TINZ can’t take all the credit for these actions, but it is likely that the process of developing the NIS assessment helped speed things up.
Some recommendations became impossible or less urgent to implement. There was for example, one aimed at the constant restructuring of government departments, which has since slowed dramatically. It will be necessary to keep an eye on the restructuring proposed in the health sector.
It became clear that some recommendations were unlikely to be implemented soon, and there has been a notable lack of action on recommendations relating to Parliament, such as the extension of the Official Information Act (OIA) to the Parliamentary Service. And although problems continued to emerge with the funding of political parties, there was little change there.
But for most recommendations there was either progress towards implementation, such as the announcement of a review of the OIA, or the recommendation expressed as an aspiration rather than a defined course of action, making it almost impossible to monitor with TINZ’s limited resources
Most importantly, the value of the 2013 NIS assessment was recognised by the government, and there was a key moment when the State Services Commission (as it then was) responded in detail to the recommendations.
So, we came to the 2018 update with some frustration at slow progress but some optimism about both government and non-government agencies’ initiatives that were either under way or that could be expected in the near future.
A further six recommendations built on those from the 2013 assessment, and in the next year or so, there was steady progress.
Among other things:
- We had a new Public Sector Act,
- the review of the OIA was under way,
- the Serious Fraud Office committed to the multi-agency development of a National Financial Crime and Corruption Strategy, (though without a timeline),
- there were new rules for public procurement,
- work began on a replacement for the very outdated Incorporated Societies Act,
- and there was increasing awareness and action on corruption in sport.
And then we got Covid-19 and everything slowed down.
There were times when it seemed the Covid emergency was being used as an excuse rather than as a reason for lack of action on many of the recommendations. This may be a bit harsh, and it was certainly necessary for both government and non-government agencies to prioritise the emergency.
As we begin to develop a new normal post-pandemic, it will be more important than ever that standards of transparency and integrity that may have been acceptable in an emergency are not allowed to become permanent. Some of these are easy to identify – Government procurement processes in particular need attention – and others will no doubt emerge as the recovery process gets fully under way.
In addition, there are important projects that have been delayed or suspended, particularly the review of the OIA, where pressure needs to be applied to make sure they are not abandoned altogether.
To end on a more cheerful note, in other areas there is more encouraging news
- There is some progress on potential changes to the Electoral Act as it applies to the operations of political parties
- There is public consultation on public service long-term briefings
- Progress albeit slow, is being made on the national anti-corruption strategy
- The Protected Disclosures Bill and the Incorporated Societies Bill are well on the way through the legislative process.
- The review of media content regulation is about to start public consultation
For the time being, the monitoring process has been wound up. If it is resumed, or if and when a further NIS assessment takes place, it is to be hoped that it will find that post-Covid normality includes a speedier pace of reform.
See Transparency International New Zealand Integrity System Assessment.