From the Chair

Suzanne Snively ONZM Chair Transparency International New Zealand

Suzanne Snively ONZM
Chair
Transparency International New Zealand

Good news doesn’t engage readers as easily as bad news.

And when there is so much information flying around through the ether these days – on smart phones, radio, bill boards – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, it’s important for an organisation like TINZ to be able to engage readers.

So, here I am writing my second “From the Chair” in 2018 with even better news to report than in February. Back then I described all the work being done by the new government – supported by public officials – to progress Open Government Partnership and address TINZ’s Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment (NIS) recommendations.

It’s not before time that the process to progress NIS recommendations is now actually happening.

Even so, like the many sceptics – always the first to comment on social media – I was surprised when I first sighted the initial 2017 Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index (TI CPI) results. I opened the email attachment from our umbrella organisation Transparency International with trepidation. I was concerned about our previous government’s lack of momentum to prevent corruption since the 2016 Shewan Inquiry, about the dreadful culture of corruption at Rodney District Council’s transport division and about the case of corruption at the New Zealand branch of Fuji-Xerox.

Whether it’s because of lags in the data used to compile the index or lack of corruption in New Zealand relative with other countries, the latest TI CPI calculates that the integrity of New Zealand’s public service outweighs all the negative trends.

In the latest TI CPI survey, New Zealand’s public sector ranks #1 on is own, ahead of close competitors Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

New Zealand’s score dropped to 89. An index with a more robust methodology might provide knowledge about the basis for the decline in score and in this way assist policy decisions to be more effective. A challenging aspect of the methodology is that the CPI score is a poor indicator of the absolute level of corruption. This year, a new database was added. New Zealand’s score would be higher than last year’s without this new database where we are first equal with 8 or 9 countries all awarded a score of 77 based on unclear data.

Since the last newsletter, I’ve found out that three more NIS recommendations are being addressed.

  • First, is Speaker of the House, Trevor Mallard’s initiative to publish cabinet papers. It will be interesting to see what stage these will be published – ideally early enough for there to be public input prior to final cabinet decisions.
  • Second is the Justice Minister’s review of the mandate for the Serious Fraud Office to enable it to more effectively address bribery and corruption and the enforcement of the law.
  • Thirdly, is the step taken by Green Party ministers to make public their ministerial diaries to counter the influence of money and lobby groups in politics. Watch this space for the other ministers in the coalition Government to follow suit.

The Greens also announced that they and their staff will stop accepting corporate hospitality. While at first sight this appears to be an indication of an ethical culture, there are risks when all contact is constrained. All Parliamentarians need exposure to a wide range of organisations – sports and arts bodies, education providers, corporates, NGOs, churches, Maori, refugees – most who use hospitality as a way of demonstrating their culture. TINZ refers readers to Justice Sally Fitzgerald’s judgement in the Auckland Transport Case (2017), that defines the boundaries between gifts and bribes. Ministers need to be informed and have context for their policies and this means spending time with their stakeholders, especially NGOs, community groups, sporting bodies and arts.

Corporates aren’t the only influencers offering hospitality and entertainment. The transparency of diary entries, including ‎recognition of any (capped) gift value, will enable Parliamentarians to gain context wider than that provided by public officials.

There is still a lot more to do.

Well overdue is overhaul of the Privacy Act.  If anybody thinks we are currently safe here, they need to have been with me at the 2018 Fraud Film Festival where documentaries about cyberwar revealed the extent of private information in circulation. To this day, the personal information of Sony employees and Ashley Madison customers is still accessible to the wider public.

Also overdue is ensuring that anti-corruption agencies are adequately resourced to do their job. The participation during Fraud Film Festival discussion sessions, of staff from ACC, FMA and the SFO demonstrated desired attributes including courage, wisdom and good judgement. We need funding in place to ensure there are enough of them and they have the tools necessary to do their job, given the threat of offshore criminal activity.

Otherwise, will they be up to the challenge from new depths of criminally corrupt behaviours of hackers operating in the dark shadows?

Suzanne Snively, ONZM

Chair

Transparency International New Zealand Inc.

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