Candidates’ Panel: Business and political integrity during COVID-19 recovery

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“To retain the country’s high ethical standing, our political leaders need to recognise the importance of integrity as a vital part of the post-pandemic recovery, and embrace their roles as ethical leaders.” So says Professor Karin Lasthuizen, Brian Picot Chair in Ethical Leadership, Wellington School of Business and Government.

On Tuesday 6 October approximately 200 people gathered at Rutherford House, Victoria University of Wellington to hear 2020 election candidates discuss business and political integrity.

Participants 

Master of ceremonies, Tamatha Paul (Wellington City Counsellor), facilitated the event. Five political parties were represented by Andrew Little (Labour), Fletcher Tabuteau (NZ First), David Patterson (National), Jessica Hammond (TOP) and James Shaw (Green). Each fielded questions from former broadcaster Ian Fraser, on the theme of the discussion.

A highlight of this event was Ian Fraser’s skillful questioning, which empowered considered and open reflection rather than soapbox posturing.

Viewpoints aired

All candidates agreed that extraordinary times require extraordinary effort to avoid corruption. There was general agreement that when policy and funding decisions are made at speed and under pressure, there is likely to be inefficient use of funding and unintended impacts.  James Shaw (Green) made a case for a post election regulatory review of decisions made during COVID-19.   The candidates also discussed the important role played by the Pandemic Response Select Committee, Chaired by the Leader of the Opposition, in maintaining public trust. 

Jessica Hammond (TOP) was keen to talk about infrastructure and public procurement.  She reflected on the politicisation of pre-1990s infrastructure spending, and how she was now seeing an erosion of the independent response on infrastructure spending. Hammond said that debt funding will inspire opportunism and for that reason we need to depoliticise infrastructure funding.  Shaw supported the concept of an infrastructure bank, set up at arms length from Ministers. 

Fletcher Tabuteau (NZ First) talked about the Provincial Growth Fund and said he had a high level of confidence in the neutrality of those funding decisions.  He said that at times politicians, wanting to move faster, were frustrated with this approach.

David Patterson (National) said that Kiwis tend to be a little naive around bribery and facilitation payments and there is more to do to raise the awareness of New Zealand businesses.

Andrew Little (Labour) indicated his support for a broader anti corruption role for the Serious Fraud Office.

All candidates talked about the importance of a healthy media sector to a liberal democracy.  They had varying positions on the level of state funding for public and even private media.

Concluding observations

TINZ Chair, Suzanne Snively, wrapped up the evening by observing that the strong message conveyed by all 5 candidates was that they are decent people who want to make our country a better place for its residents. “Given that the best antidote to corruption is integrity and, compared to what’s going on elsewhere in the world, this is something that is remarkable about New Zealand.  At the same time, taking deliberate steps to build the economic recovery on the values of transparency and integrity has the potential to move our economy more quickly into a positive spiral.”

This event, jointly hosted by Transparency International New Zealand and the Victoria University of Wellington Brian Picot Chair of Ethical Leadership, is part of our ongoing effort to ensure that political parties, candidates and our elected officials prioritise the need for transparency and corruption prevention. Access to an edited audio recording of the event will be provided here when made available soon.  

Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka was in attendance and published a recap: Funding in crisis mode: The Covid corruption risks.

Also, see our election advocacy section. TINZ posed seven questions to the ten political parties on the topics of pandemic recovery, political party funding, codes of ethics, whistleblower protection, and anti-corruption measures. The responses show that claims of taking corruption prevention seriously, are not supported with much knowledge or planned action.

Key questions put to all five candidates

  1. TINZ’s National Integrity System Assessment has found that the public sector became more focused on preventing corruption between 2013 and 2018 – what has been COVID-19’s impact on transparency and accountability  in areas such as whistle blowing, protective disclosure, procurement and conflicts of interest?

  2. While there are signs of improvement in public sector integrity, business integrity showed little if any signs of improvement in its complacency about conduct and culture between 2013 and 2018. Given the nature of the economic recovery required now that the COVID virus is contained, what can be done to ensure business integrity is strengthened?

  3. Already weakened by disrupted business models from social media diluting advertising revenue, the media was further disrupted by the COVID Crisis. Why is freedom of the press so important for transparency and accountability and what are your ideas about what needs to be done to strengthen the integrity systems underlying the media so it can be effective in preventing corruption?

  4. Three political parties had/have cases in front of the Serious Fraud Office related to what may be illegal political party donations. What form of political party funding will both prevent corruption as well as support the development of viable political parties with a role of creating qualified candidates for Parliament.

Opening statements—Business and political integrity during the recovery from the COVID crisis

Full Seminar: Business and political integrity during the recovery from the COVID crisis

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