From the Chair

Suzanne Snively ONZM Chair Transparency International New Zealand

Suzanne Snively ONZM
Chair
Transparency International New Zealand

For 2018, Happy New Year is promising more than resolutions made and then broken. It is promising resolutions aimed at protecting our country from corrupt practice being acted upon.

There are encouraging signs of an unusually productive new year for progressing anti-corruption policy and building New Zealand’s reputation of integrity.

Not since 2013 have Government Cabinet Ministers been so willing to discuss the importance of progressing anti-corruption initiatives.

And the range of initiatives will make a major dent to ticking off the 60-something recommendations in Transparency International New Zealand’s 2013 National Integrity System Assessment. There are promising initiatives already underway in the areas of open government, access to official information, free and frank advice, registration of foreign beneficial ownership, publication of cabinet papers, whistle blower and protective disclosure policies, and so on.

The Hon Andrew Little has been appointed by the new coalition government as Minister with specific responsibilities for leading their Anti-Corruption Strategy. Signals are good that he is committed to action where corruption prevention and building integrity are concerned. He is also responsible for progressing the anti-corruption pledges identified at David Cameron’s Anti-Corruption Summit in May 2016.

Associate State Sector Minister (Open Government) Clare Curran’s first published speech recognised the hard work required by a government to gain feedback from directly engaging the public. This is a minimum for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to be effective. Without prompting, she acknowledged a desire to look to credible civil society organisations such as TINZ for expert advice. (See Minister Clare Curran engages with TINZ agenda and Hon Clare Curran Interviewed by Mark Sainsbury). 

Public officials are off and running with stronger anti-corruption initiatives.

  • State Services Commissioner, Peter Hughes, has progressed:

       – free and frank advice guidance

       – guidance for speaking up about wrongdoing in the Public service

       – and a code of conduct for Ministerial advisors.

  • The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is deepening its approach to cyber security and other national anti-corruption measures.
  • The Serious Fraud Office in opening a Wellington Office to better carry out its anti-corruption role.

There is potential for our New Zealand Government to beat the European Union in introducing a public register of beneficial ownership.

This would be an important signal of New Zealand’s international leadership. It would also protect New Zealanders and save money. Law enforcers would see who controls shell companies and other opaque structures, and avoid costs of duplication by creating one place for information collection and collation instead of being collected by many individual Kiwi businesses, accountant, lawyers, banks and so on.

As the following newsletter article describes, a key aim of the EU’s Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive is to increase transparency around ‎all beneficial owners of what to date have been opaque entities including companies and trusts.

Something else to think about here. In the UK, new powers came into force in February which will be used to crackdown on corrupt members of the global elite. The ‘Unexplained Wealth Order’ will be used to seize the UK assets of wealthy people suspected of having profited from the proceeds of crime. Wealthy individuals, those who have acquired assets worth more than £50,000, will be forced to explain to UK officials how they acquired their assets.

Meantime Keitha Booth, Independent Researcher for the Global OGP’s Independent Review Mechanism’s (IRM), finalised her comprehensive review of New Zealand’s OGP commitments included in its 2nd National Action Plan (NAP) 2016-2018.‎ Keitha’s constructive and methodical approach will both strengthen further progress on the 7 commitments in the 2nd NAP and also help focus thinking about ways to develop an even stronger 3rd NAP for 2018-2020.

The IRM’s “standards” for consultation allowed a breathtakingly short period for feedback on Keitha’s draft report. These standards show little empathy for national conditions, such as January being a summer month when many New Zealanders are taking a much-needed break, encouraged by record hot and sunny conditions over the summer. So once again, there was little public interest aroused by her review and only a few submissions were made.

TINZ’s OGP team pulled out all the stops to meet the IRM’s 6 February deadline. Key themes are acknowledgement of the comprehensive evaluation by researcher Keitha Booth and the progress that has been made by government agencies who are the major co-creators to achieve the OGP commitments in the 2nd NAP.

Given this Government’s ambitious plans to build a better New Zealand, it is important that OGP is resourced to be effective from now on. This means additional funding to develop communication channels (both electronic and personal) that the public can easily access to provide feedback about how it wants its government to be better.

The survival of modern democracy requires governments to design ways to attract the public to tell them what really matters. And public officials also require resources to respond in a way that members of the public know that they have been heard.

Otherwise OGP will remain one of those empty policy phrases that the public has grown to expect from their government leaders.

And yet, OGP has the potential to unify New Zealanders around a strategy for improving the future of this country.

In other words, the funding required for OGP to succeed is an INVESTMENT ‎in gaining buy in from people to cooperate to achieve earlier and greater success of major government initiatives including Kiwi Build and addressing child poverty. An empowered population, in the end, provides the real horse power to get these things done.

Suzanne Snively, ONZM

Chair

Transparency International New Zealand Inc.

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