From the Chair

Suzanne Snively
TINZ Chair

Now is the time to seriously commit to further resourcing the Serious Fraud Office.

We continue to fight an uphill battle when it comes to attracting the attention of political leaders to adequately protect us from corruption’s undermining impact.

Corruption at the local level

Wellington city mayoral candidates were asked to address questions about their approach to anti-corruption policy and practice at TINZ’s 26 September event. Attendees told TINZ that the only times candidates talked explicitly about their policies to address corruption, was when TINZ asked them.

Only due to media coverage did candidates become aware that there was public interest in their sources of campaign funding.

Local body political candidates appear to think that the public is only interested in local body services and rates that directly impact on their households and communities.  

Yet, the strong integrity systems that inspect, detect, prevent and protect against corruption are essential if our local communities are to thrive. Strong local government integrity systems lead to better public services and attract population growth that results in lower rates per household.

The Auckland Transport case is a recent example of the negative way corruption can impact local communities. This case was prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office. https://www.reportitnow.co.nz/blog/serious-fraud-office-billions-in-public-funds-likely-lost-to-fraud/

Corruption, Wellbeing and the Government’s Budget

Integrity systems that address corruption clearly underpin better public services. They also enhance the wellbeing of people as employees, user of public services and roading infrastructure and as members of communities.

Last year was the first wellbeing budget. With corruption the major disruptive force contributing to negative wellbeing in other countries., it is crucial that this Government invests in the processes and practices that inspect, detect, prevent, protect against and prosecute corruption.

The main time to make a difference to how Government spends our taxes is NOW. According to the Treasury website, https://treasury.govt.nz/publications/guide/guide-budget-process, the strategic phase of the budget process,‎ takes place from June to December the year before the budget is published.

The timing of the central Government Budget’s strategic phase is transparently stated on the first page of Treasury’s website section about the Budget process. The process around the strategic phase, however, is far from transparent.

Until the budget is formally presented to the media and public – usually the 3rd Thursday of May each year. – budget decisions are cloaked in budget secrecy.

During the June to December strategic phase of the Budget, government agencies start developing and updating their four-year plans. These four-year plans help inform the Government’s decision-making about where to invest by identifying the strategic choices and trade-offs facing government departments.

As set out in the overview budget guidance, the strategy phase appears to be focussed on the government’s fiscal objectives with its wellbeing framework as an add on.

For the budget to be genuinely centred on wellbeing, it requires a strong platform based around an integrity system. This needs to be addressed as a key element of the strategy, not an add on.

Unfortunately, discussions are conducted under Budget secrecy until the full budget is published the following May. Over $150 billion of New Zealanders’ resources are allocated through processes that take place behind closed doors.

This is the time of year to budget anti-corruption efforts

By the time the Budget is released to the public in May each year, it’s too late to make a case for more funding. Instead of the Budget providing the public with choices, it provides the public with narrative promoting the priorities set during the strategic phase that started off nearly a year earlier.

Government agencies that fight corruption

Three of the government agencies that make a major impact on addressing corruption are the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Ombudsman and Office of the Auditor General (OAG). These agencies will be putting together their budget bids now https://treasury.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2018-12/budget19-guidance.pdf

There are quite important things each of these offices do that protect us New Zealanders from bribery, fraud and corruption.

The SFO detects, investigates and prosecutes corruption. It also aims to prevent corruption through education and promotion. It’s total budget for 2019/20 is $9.7 million and it has 50 staff.

The Controller and Auditor-General is responsible for auditing 3,600 public bodies who collectively spend more than $150 billion each year. It has included the investigation of their processes aimed at preventing corruption in their organisations. Its budgeted crown funding for 2019/20 is $15.8 million.

It’s 2018/19 Annual Report including a table showing that the New Zealand’s Integrity Ranking is #1, according to the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index compared to 38 other countries reviewed by the University of Oxford.

The Office of the Ombudsman has a total budget of $25.9 million for 2019/20. Its primary role is to investigate complaints against government agencies, investigate agencies that fail to provide information in accordance with the Official Information Act. It also has the responsibility to protect whistleblowers and investigate the administration of prisons.

The amount of funding ‎they each need to carry out their roles even more effectively than they do now is miniscule in comparison to funding for other agencies. Added all together and including the funding the OAG receives for its audits, these three agencies spend less than 0.1% of Government’s over $150 billion.

Focus on Wellbeing during the strategic phase

To focus on wellbeing, it’s time that the strategic phase of the Budget includes feedback about those things that will make a major positive impact on wellbeing.

The education work of the Serious Fraud Office is an example. This could equip communities and businesses with the knowledge to detect corrupt practice early and protect against deeper harm.

For the Government’s 2020/21 Budget to be genuinely centred on wellbeing, it requires a strong platform based around the public sector’s integrity systems. A well-designed integrity system will prevent corruption and enhance cooperation and coordination amongst government agencies in a way that more effectively enhances the wellbeing of New Zealanders.

Its time NOW for the Prime Minister and her coalition Government to take a serious look at increasing its resourcing of our very capable anti-corruption monitors. If the SFO, OAG and Ombudsman have the capacity required to communicate across our whole country, they will ensure that our integrity systems support a living standards framework and a sustainable future for all our local communities.

Suzanne Snively, ONZM

Chair

Transparency International New Zealand Inc.

29 October 2019

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