Transparency Times May 2020

Thoughts from the Patron

Lyn Provost
Patron
Transparency International New Zealand

Lyn Provost

Patron

Transparency International New Zealand

The last few weeks of lock down have been a time for me to tackle to-do lists, exercise, eat and reflect. I’d like to share some of my reflections on the support and leadership TINZ can provide during the COVID-19 response and recovery.

Democracy

In times of crisis the Government necessarily exercises extraordinary powers. Exercising those powers does not mean that transparency and accountability are suspended. Democracy depends on the institutions and processes of our parliamentary democracy being in place.

First and foremost is the institution of Parliament itself and its role of asking questions, debating ideas and considering different opinions. Those roles are especially important at this time.  TINZ should continue to endorse and encourage the Parliamentary process now and support good election practices later in the year.

Corruption and Fraud

While most people are doing the right thing, as we expect from the country’s first equal position on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, we would be naïve to think everyone is acting in the public interest.

The wage subsidy and procurement are obvious risks in the current environment. I have tremendous sympathy for the large number of small/medium businesses that are suffering significant pain at this time, but maintaining integrity is vital. We as a country should have no tolerance for corrupt/fraudulent practices.

Keeping our eyes peeled for examples of corruption and a lack of transparency are the responsibility of us all. TINZ has a particular interest and expertise to support and encourage the system of transparency and exhort people to do the right thing.

Accountability

Many parts of society have a role in holding the Government to account.

I am pleased to see that the Auditor General is carrying out an inquiry into the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for those in urgent need of it. I have to admit that despite trying, I can’t work out whether we have enough PPE or not. Other reviews have been announced and I welcome that real time learning.

The media has an important accountability role. They should not just report on what people need to do but also provide alternative views, and maintain an appropriate level of communication and questioning no matter what the alert level.

Appreciation

Finally I would like to record my appreciation for the hard work and sacrifices made by all the essential workers across New Zealand. We are not New York so don’t have Thunderbirds and Blue Angels to do a fly over to thank essential workers. So in a more Kiwi approach: Thank you, Kia ora.

 

Integrity systems required to tame COVID-19

Suzanne Snively Transparency International New Zealand

Suzanne Snively
Chair
Transparency International New Zealand

From the Chair

COVID-19 is a force of nature. Already hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost to this world because of it. Failure to recognise its danger comes at the cost of human lives.

The world is learning a very expensive lesson. It needs to understand the nature of the virus and its force in order to tame it. COVID-19 cannot be instructed to do as it is told. Failure to understand its impact on vulnerable populations such as rest homes has contributed to too many sad endings of our loved ones’ lives.

Strong Integrity Systems are Essential

Governments without strong integrity systems are paying the price in the form of unnecessary death of their own people and others around the world.

China was slow to initially report on the breadth of the outbreak and severity of the disease. The U.S. Government’s attitude that the pandemic was a political issue, failure to take expert advice, and inept response has led to countless unnecessary deaths.

Transparent Tests and Tracing

COVID-19 is a force of nature that affects everyone on the planet. Deaths from it cannot be prevented by covering them up.

Truthful accounts, such as those given by brave clinicians like Wuhan’s Li Wenliang, public health specialists like the US’s Dr Anthony Fauci and our own Dr Ashley Bloomfield are critical to saving lives. Front line staff, emergency services personnel, and research scientists that have seen the nature of the virus up close are the voices we need. From the beginning, they have been giving truthful accounts of what they have seen.

Because this virus has no ideology, we also need statisticians, social scientists and economists to provide fact-based assessments of the impact of public policy alternatives on the welfare of our populations.

New Zealand Government Integrity

The New Zealand Government has so far demonstrated the strong integrity systems consistent with its joint first-equal ranking (as least corrupt) on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index and the findings of Transparency International New Zealand’s National Integrity Systems Assessments. [add links]

From the start, there have been daily press briefings outlining what is known and unknown about the impact of the COVID-19 virus. A special cross-party Epidemic Response select committee set up with the Leader of Opposition as Chair, has answered other questions.

Our Government understood the nature of this virus early and has been able to take steps to contain it in the community. It has led us to being one of the more successful countries at containing community transmission of the virus.

While the pandemic demands a coordinated whole-of-nation approach, press freedom and freedom of expression provide a basis for widening the understanding of the facts. This is a time for facts and truth. This is time for integrity.

Suzanne Snively, ONZM

Chair

Transparency International New Zealand Inc.

Personal protective equipment – the new gold rush

Tod Cooper
TINZ Director
Focus on Procurement

When the parents are away, the kids will play!

Procurement is often reputed to be the kill-joy in a business by slowing things down, regularly frustrating those waiting for delivery of products or services.

Procurement’s reputation is justified because of its essential role of ensuring that policies and processes are in place and adhered to. These processes in turn, ensure integrity in purchase decisions. Good procurement also introduces efficiency, accountability, and provides certainty around value for money. It greatly minimises the chance for fraud and corruption. Remove this and you have the wild west.

Sadly, with the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival we have seen a desperate clambering amongst countries (and to a lesser extent business) for vital personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical supplies, such as the fabled N95 masks.

What has resulted is a mind-boggling ‘open cheque book’ purchasing mentality. PPE buyers’ number one focus is to buy all the stock before anyone else does. Sort of a government version of flour and toilet paper stockpiling by households.

As a consequence of this panic buying, governments the world over have scrambled to award massive contracts to third-party vendors, with little, if any, formal process and certainly no due diligence. This has sparked the interest of opportunists and crooks alike.

Pandemic opportunism examples

A quick Google search on ‘PPE Fraud’ returned a staggering 8,070,000 results. Just some snippets:

America: The Washington Post is reporting that the Trump administration awarded a $US55 million contract to a company called Panthera Worldwide LLC, a company with no expertise in the world of medical equipment. This was allegedly awarded without competitive bidding. Lizzie Litzow, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokeswoman said the Panthera contract is for 10 million masks.

When normal supply channels are saturated, we will see opportunists such as Panthera try and cash in. Is US$5 too much to pay for each mask that costs between $0.68 and $1.78? Maybe, maybe not.

Australia. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is investigating an Australian “broker” accused of being involved in a scam that promised to deliver 39 million N95 masks.

Nepal. Sales of Rapid Diagnostic Testing (RDT) Kits of substandard quality at three times the price. Even closer to home there have been examples of attempts to offload expired hand sanitiser at exorbitant rates.

3M. 3M’s legal team are busy filing countless lawsuits against companies it says have been engaged in price-gouging and fraudulent sales. The company has not raised its prices and has taken aggressive legal action against vendors selling its products at a significant mark-up. 3M charges from as little as US$0.68 cents per surgical N95 mask, to about US$1.78 for more advanced models before bulk purchase discounts.

Supply and demand

I often think back to my fifth form economics days, specifically the law of supply and demand. We all know that when demand outweighs supply, prices generally increase.

It gets worse though!

The high demand attracts the supply of inferior – often unusable – and non-existent products. People have ordered and paid for PPE products that do not even exist. Imagine paying hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars up front to an overseas company you have never done business with after limited or no due diligence. To me that is a sackable offence! But yet…

More examples of opportunism

Singapore. Various scam eCommerce sites have requested people to pay upfront for products.

Hong Kong. An online mask selling scam on the popular social media platform, Facebook, has reportedly made millions of dollars before being shut down.

Indonesia. Police have arrested people who have been manufacturing fake medical masks, seizing more than 30,000 masks in the process.

China. More online mask selling scams.

New Zealand. NZ Herald cautions against questionable face mask suppliers targeting New Zealand customers. See Coronavirus face mask scam: Have you spotted this online scam?

Do not abandon procurement policies and practices

All of this leads to an obvious conclusion. Now is not the time to abandon procurement policies and practices. Instead following them is more important than ever.

Personal protective equipment supply in New Zealand

Tod Cooper
TINZ Director
Focus on Procurement

Much has been said and written about the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) in New Zealand. We are never going to get this perfect. But we need to try and get it right for next time, as when it comes to pandemics, history repeats.

I applaud the decision by the Auditor-General to undertake an independent review of the management of personal protective equipment (PPE) during COVID-19.

National PPE distribution system

The Ministry of Health (MoH) is the lead agency responsible for the challenge of sourcing, shipping and distribution of PPE. This includes masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, goggles, etc. They hold no secret that they have struggled with the national and global scale of this pandemic. Their systems were not fit for the response required.

MoH has since established a new national PPE distribution system which includes a centralised logistics team to ensure end-to-end procurement. They have two primary areas of focus: (1) health and (2) non-health.

PPE supply (buying it)

Given the global scale, New Zealand’s orders of tens of million of PPE is only a blip. Therefore it is important that we took a centralised and coordinated approach to our PPE supply chain.

The global demand for N95 surgical masks has been staggering. For example the Malaysian Government ordered 600 million masks for its population. New Zealand simply has a lack of supply chain leverage particularly if it does not ‘pool together’ the country’s needs.

To help source PPE and ensure quality, the MoH engaged people in China. They managed to meet the purchasing requirements for both emergency and essential services’ categories under both COVID-19 Alert levels 4 and 3. It was the systems and communication supporting the national distribution that was lacking.

Report Card: 4 out of 5. MoH managed to meet the needs to provide stocks of all PPE equipment to support New Zealand’s needs.  There have been no publicised quality issues with supplies and no one appears to have been ripped off in the process.

PPE Logistics (shipping it to NZ)

Logistics and freight are the biggest challenge. Availability is limited and freight pricing volatile. It’s a case of low supply and high demand coupled with a lack of passengers to subsidise flights.

It is rumoured that some shipments were being redirected at the ports. In a crisis like COVID-19, cash is king after all! The team in China ensured that our shipments left for New Zealand.

Report Card: 3.5 out of 5. Through a series of charter flights, we successfully imported the necessary PPE stocks (albeit at 11th hour) and have regular forward supply commitments to ensure continuity of stocks moving forward.

PPE Distribution (getting it to those in need)

Having spoken to a number of essential service providers and health workers on the front line, the difference in communication and support is staggering. From one who would ask for some hand sanitiser and get a box of the stuff the following day, to another who ‘come love nor money’ could not get hold of any.

The systems that underpin the distribution have been left wanting. This needs serious retooling to ensure a consistent and effective approach and communication.

Report Card: What’s the out-of-5 rating? I’ve heard some positive things. Some of the distribution is clearly working well, but now we need to better understand that and replicate it across all of New Zealand.

Buy Local

Thankfully we have local manufacturing capability in companies such as QSI, with the capacity for 500,000 of masks per week. This gives us some buffer and also showcases our buy local capabilities.

It is also very pleasing to hear a number of “positive contributors”. These are companies like Good George, with ‘Operation Helping Hands’. They were able to adjust their whisky distillery to manufacturing hand sanitiser to meet a public need.

We need to develop more resilience locally. This might just be the catalyst!

Letter to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

15 April 2020
Carolyn Tremain
Chief Executive,
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
WELLINGTON

 

Dear Carolyn,

We are writing to you as the Functional Leader for government procurement.

Firstly, we would like to take the opportunity to applaud the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the existence of your Quick guide to emergency procurement, which has enabled critical supply chain agility at such a time of need.

As noted in the Guide, when quick decisions are necessary to move vast amounts of resources, the risk of fraud, bribery, and corruption increases. At this stage it is more important than ever to maintain accountability and transparency of government contracting and expenditure.

The Government Rules of Procurement (Rule 48) states that:

An agency must publish the contract award notice on GETS [Ed: The New Zealand Government Electronic Tenders Service] within 30 business days of all parties signing the contract(s).

For procurements undertaken during an emergency, the Guide states that the award of the contract still needs to be published on GETS as per the Rules, albeit retrospectively, together with a clear statement that it was an emergency procurement.

We consider it important that agencies are aware of, and meet, the expectations set out in the Rules and the Guide. We would encourage you to remind all public sector leaders of their accountability.

At TINZ we are fortunate to have procurement and supply chain expertise across both public and private sectors. We are happy to apply this expertise to support and complement your key accountability messages.

Carolyn, we are available to meet with you (via Zoom) to discuss how we can assist in maintaining the integrity of government procurement during these challenging times.

Kind Regards,

 

Julie Haggie
Chief Executive

Tod Cooper
Director
Procurement

Laurence Millar
Member with Delegated Authority
Open Government

Rest home reviews will save lives

Suzanne Snively
Chair Transparency International New Zealand

There are currently two reviews underway that have the potential to address the spread of COVID-19 to those who are genuinely vulnerable. The Office of the Ombudsman has been asked to carry out a review of the conditions at rest homes. The Auditor General has been asked to review the distribution of personal protection equipment (PPE).

Vulnerability is related more to clusters than age

Regrettably, the approach to protecting people 70 years and over in New Zealand started on the wrong track, when it comes to preventing deaths.

The initial data from Wuhan showed that fatalities were much higher for those aged over 70. Experience has since shown that age alone is a poor indicator of genuine vulnerability.

It has turned out that the truly vulnerable are a much narrower group. The virus thrives in places where people are living, travelling or working closely together.

A significant sub-set of this 70+ group is rest home residents who both live closely with others, as well as having health vulnerabilities. Most of New Zealand’s COVID-19 deaths have occured in rest homes. The few New Zealand deaths outside of rest homes have been to individuals with health vulnerabilities.

In Vietnam, the tradition has been to look after their older family members at home. This may be a reason why Vietnam has had no COVID-19 deaths to date. Our more common reliance on rest homes has led to a worse outcome. Protection against the spread of the virus in rest home facilities was addressed too late to prevent deaths here.

Like cruise ships, rest homes are places that can spread the virus. More dangerous than cruise ships, it is often impossible to isolate rest home residents, most of whom are there because they require direct, daily contact with their caregivers.

Rest home residents, whether infected or not, have endured more repercussions from the virus than the rest of the population.

Testing positive means being isolated, away from their rest home colleagues, their friends and family. In many cases, too, they will have different caregivers from the ones they are familiar with. If they die, they do so away from loved ones.

Those without COVID-19 but with different ailments that require hospitalisation, have been moved away from their usual living arrangements. They are unable to return to familiar and comfortable environments.

Two reviews need to be comprehensive and quick

To offset the impact of COVID-19 on society and the economy, Parliament has given the Government a rare and considerable degree of flexibility to fund its response to the COVID-19 crisis. But public transparency still remains paramount. 

If we want to tame the virus, the defensiveness so common to the kiwi-psyche must be overcome when scoping and carrying out these reviews.

Government agencies will need to overcome the impulse to spin the findings so that they look good. Often when a government agency commissions reviews on themselves, they “manage” to avoid potential criticism by keeping the scope narrow, the time short and the resources limited.

Recall the limited scope of the early Pike River reviews!

The virus has no interest in whether government agencies look good. To tame COVID-19, government agencies must BE good, they must do the right thing. The two reviews are essential to ensure New Zealand can continue to eliminate COVID-19. They need to seek the truth and set out the steps required to implement changes as soon as possible.

Early results from the two reviews will save lives

As well as using Parliament’s funding for the health services, it is important to adequately fund these two reviews to ensure that they can provide comprehensive feedback. And to deal with the remorseless virus, this feedback needs to be published as quickly as humanly possible.

The request for the Ombudsman to review rest homes has come too late to prevent rest home deaths from the coronavirus, even when the virus is contained in other parts of the community. But it does provide a chance to learn how to improve conditions of care now in ways that can be more effective if there is another wave of COVID-19 or future pandemics.

Overseas experience has shown the vulnerability of caregivers without proper PPE. Many deaths have been reported overseas of previously healthy doctors, nurses and caregivers. One significant factor in preventing deaths is the availability of PPE for caregivers.

As the Auditor General says:

“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is being produced, procured, managed, and distributed to critical services. It is important that the public has confidence that those working as part of the response to COVID-19 have the equipment they need to be able to work safely.”

The Auditor General has agreed with the Ministry of Health that it will examine the systems for acquiring and maintaining stocks of PPE, and its systems for distribution. It is important that this includes the distribution of PPE to rest homes.

Both reviews say that they are being done urgently, with plans to report back before the end of May. This timing is not urgent enough to prevent more deaths. A focus on rest homes with early findings published is imperative.

It is a matter of life and death that the reviews by the Ombudsman’s Office and Auditor General be done comprehensively, openly and truthfully, without the constraints so often built into past reviews of government activities. The findings need to be accompanied with constructive recommendations for improvement.

This is a time for facts and truth. The quality of the lives of caregivers as well as those of our vulnerable New Zealanders in rest home care, depend on it.

TINZ signs international declaration on risks to open government

Along with many other civil society organisations Transparency International New Zealand has added its name to an international declaration on COVID-19 and its risks to open government. 

Addressed to governments, donors and international organisations, the letter focuses on democratic values.  It acknowledges that protecting lives and livelihoods, sustaining health-care systems and the resetting the economy have rightly become the most pressing priorities for the foreseeable future.  But it calls to action on the protection of open, inclusive and accountable governance, with democratic standards and personal rights.

The letter notes that “we have already seen that governments that suppress facts, remove oversight and silence critical voices can escalate the crises and increase hardships. On the contrary, open, honest and inclusive governments are leveraging collective knowledge to improve critical services and create a shared sense of responsibility. This approach creates trust in government actions and empowers citizens to be active participants in the response and recovery.  The world finds itself at a crossroad. We can either address this pandemic in a way that protects or even revives trust, democracy, open and inclusive governance — or we can ignore them and expect a deeper erosion of open governance, one that would be very hard to reverse.”

To promote the values that define democracy, this declaration calls on governments and inter-government organisations to undertake actions that protect democracy, including actions relating to the importance of parliament, oversight and monitoring of decisions, transparency of procurement and protection of free speech and privacy. 

The full declaration can be viewed at this link, and is open for any civil society representatives to sign online.
https://www.opengovpartnership.org/news/statement-on-threats-to-democracy-and-open-government-due-to-covid-19/

Will New Zealand continue to show it can be #1 in the world?

James Bushell
TINZ Member with Delegated Authority
Business and Non-Profit Sectors

James Bushell
TINZ Member with Delegated Authority

New Zealand has one of the lowest levels of corruption globally. In the COVID-19 environment, will New Zealand organisations make corruption-free decisions to benefit all New Zealanders? Or will short-term self interest prevail? Which companies will emerge with higher trust levels and have stronger market-position post COVID-19? 

As New Zealand tackles COVID-19, the country is faced with economic, social and health challenges. The country is required to move swiftly and decisively in order to mitigate the effects of the virus on society. As a result, we have witnessed a concentration of power, degradation of New Zealanders’ rights and freedoms and large sums of money introduced to alleviate economic stress. These policies and measures have been put in place at a speed to match the threat. They were implemented under a state of emergency, and under conditions not conducive to creating robust policy. They are reliant on a “high trust model”. A model which comes with increased corruption risks.

As a result of the measures put in place to combat COVID-19, the private sector environment has changed.  There are now:

  • More opportunities to increase existing wealth through the misallocation of resources, contracts, grants, wage subsidies, etc
  • More discretion in decision-making and allocation of resources
  • Fewer transparency and accountability mechanisms
  • Limited supervision and enforcement
  • Asymmetries of information and resources allowing companies to take advantage of customers e.g price gouging
  • Heightened risks of privacy and security breaches. 

Experience from past crises suggests that illicit finance will continue to flow. The European Banking Authority has warned of the ‘new’ modus operandi of opportunism where corporates may take advantage of the crisis to make short-term gains. 

We have a responsibility to look at the issues at hand and the most effective ways to overcome them, to avoid the system being leveraged for individual profit. 

We should not allow COVID-19 to compromise our values and our standards, including transparency and accountability. 

Companies need to:

  1. Take time to think about what they should do, not what they could do.
  2. Ensure that sound processes and accountability measures are in place. Strengthen rather than circumvent them in the face of extraordinary circumstances. This is an opportunity not just to avoid corruption, but to build trust.
  3. Make integrity and trust a key part of the business strategy.
  4. Know the risks and prepare for them. Recognise opportunities to improve the business by improving compliance.
  5. Make anti-corruption part of the company culture and operations. Show employees, customers and suppliers that the company has a zero-tolerance policy on bribery and corruption.
  6. Consistently communicate progress to stakeholders, always striving for continuous improvement. Be proud and spread the movement.

Transparency and accountability must not be lost in the haste to respond to COVID-19. Trust is a commodity that is vital to New Zealand’s economic recovery in both domestic and export markets.

Lets keep NZ at #1.

This article draws on information from these sources:

Corruption can have no place in our COVID-19 recovery World Economic Forum.

COVID-19 pandemic: GRECO warns of corruption risks Council of Europe

Eliminate Corruption in Your Company with 6 Steps United Nations Global Compact

COVID-19: A perfect storm for the corrupt? New and old money laundering risks during the coronavirus pandemic

Doc Edge Festival 2020

Doc Edge, New Zealand’s International Documentary Film Festival, runs online nationwide from 12 June to 5 July, 2020. The programme of scheduled screenings, Q&A sessions with filmmakers, and other opportunities for online interactions and conversations will be released on 14 May on the Doc Edge websiteSign-up here to receive the programme and other updates.

This year’s programme includes international documentaries that explore themes such as political integrity, public sector and private sector accountability, and the challenges of upholding truth in journalism.

Now in its fifteenth year, the festival’s new online experience will enable more New Zealanders to experience high quality films and fascinating discussions from the comfort of their homes.  

Transparency International New Zealand is promoting this event to support several films with anti-corruption themes.

Open Budget Survey 2019

“As governments launch massive spending measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, the latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) points to weak transparency and oversight of government spending.” Visit the international OBS website and New Zealand results.

The pandemic is testing public trust in government

The coronavirus pandemic is a global public health threat and a source of unprecedented economic dislocation. People are looking to government to both protect public health and provide relief from economic hardship. Citizens have also looked to government for timely and reliable information to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

The crisis has put to the test, public trust in government. Some governments have risen to the occasion. Others have not, with dire consequences for citizens.

Open Budget Survey 2019 New Zealand composite scores

2019 Open Budget Survey

In this context, the release of the 2019 OBS report is particularly timely. The International Budget Partnership (IBP) and its network of independent country researchers provide a comprehensive assessment of three key elements underlying public trust in government:

  • the scope and timelines of public access to substantive and reliable information about government finances and policies
  • the strength of public sector accountability mechanisms through legislative oversight and independent audit
  • the scope and quality of opportunities for direct public engagement with government during budget formulation and implementation, as well as in legislative review and audit processes.

NZ’s performance

Consistent strengths

New Zealand once again tops the survey for budget transparency. Underlying the country’s consistently strong performance is a legal framework, in which comprehensive legal requirements are embedded (Public Finance Act) and application of robust accrual accounting practices to public accounts.

New Zealand consistently scores high in the underlying Open Budget Index (OBI) focus on public availability of information covering the full budget cycle. The scope and strength of Office of the Auditor-General audit oversight is also an area of consistently solid performance.

Persistent areas in need of improvement

Accessibility vs availability of information

Much of the New Zealand budget information is available, but not accessible. The “Citizens Budget” is still not meeting expectations for making information broadly accessible (or attractive) to “non-specialists”. Treasury’s recently developed “Basics” series while a step in the right direction stands to be improved in both presentation and scope. Another clear opportunity exists to more effectively communicate information about public resources to a broader audience by greater investment in web-based data visualisations (“info-graphics”).

Parliamentary oversight

The assessment indicated Parliamentary oversight in New Zealand has improved to being just “adequate”. Opportunities exist for the new  Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO), which will be operational starting in July 2021, to bolster relatively constrained/weak legislative oversight across the budget cycle.

Limited public engagement

Opportunities for routine annual public engagement/dialogue with the Government remain limited. The latest OBS results show the composite score for public engagement slipping from 59 to 54.

Open Budget Survey 2019 budget transparency scores

Low hanging fruit

The 2109 OBS results show New Zealand continuing to be a high performer in the “headline” OBI assessing public availability of information. However, results for specific OBI questions also point to the persistence of specific gaps in public availability of essential information. These gaps are well within the Government’s (Treasury’s) capacity to address.

They include:

  • Strengthening web-based data visualisations (“info-graphics”)
  • Increasing the scope of mid-year (and other in-year) reporting on spending for specific programmes
  • Improving the scope and presentation of information in the plain-language “Basics” series
  • A public comprehensive budget calendar, inclusive of designated entry points for broad-based public consultations on policy priorities
  • Developing “alternative displays” of public spending with the ability to drill down into specific sectors or policies according to given characteristics. Displays can align nicely with the “wellbeing” budget framework
  • Increasing the scope of mid-year and other in-year reporting on spending for specific programmes
  • Providing comparisons of forecasts and actual outcomes in annual year-end reporting, with explanation for variances

Producing the Open Budget Survey

The results of the 2019 Open Budget Survey are the product of an intensive 18-month effort involving:

  • Collection and review of extensive documentation and data
  • Completion of the 150+ survey questions by country researchers
  • Submission of completed questionnaires for both independent peer and government review
  • Responding to all comments and alternative assessments raised by reviewers
  • Tabulating results as scores and rankings, conducting analysis and drafting reporting materials
  • Dissemination of findings for discussions among stakeholders.

This information is derived from a media release by Jonathan Dunn, the NZ Country Researcher for IBP/OBS. 

Links:

FISA Self-Assessments postponed

Bernie McKendrey, Deputy Chair, The Institute of Internal Auditors New Zealand

Bernie McKendrey

FISA Project Team Manager

COVID-19 has had a dramatic effect on the New Zealand economy, markets, financial entities and consumers.

The strategy and principles of maintaining trust, integrity, good conduct and seeking the right outcomes in all sectors have always been important attributes for our country’s economy. It is during unprecedented events when the world is fighting the novel coronavirus, that the significance of these principles becomes clear. 

Integrity and trust are key to fighting the virus.

These attributes underpin Transparency International New Zealand’s Financial Integrity System Assessment (FISA) which had been scheduled to launch this year.  As a result of the COVID-19 virus crisis, the circulation of the FISA Self-Assessment to financial organisations and the comprehensive assessment of financial sector integrity systems, has been postponed until next year.

Financial organisations, like many New Zealand businesses, are focussed on managing their balance sheets, surviving COVID-19 and strategising for a quite different future.

Since December 2019, several banks, insurance companies and other financial sector organisations undertook TESTs of the FISA Self-Assessment.

The FISA Project Team has been focussed on reviewing the TEST group feedback. Thanks to the participants’ feedback, there has been excellent material for refining the assessment and associated tools. 

However, TINZ is sensitive to the efforts that financial organisations are putting into meeting their customer needs at this crucial time and as we move forward, to heal our economy and ensure it is resilient to deal with the impact of the current and future pandemics. Now is not the time to be examining what is being done.

Later FISA will be in a great position to assess what has been achieved and the impact of those achievements on staff, consumers and other stakeholders.

In the coming months, the FISA Project Team will:

  • Refine and consolidate FISA and tools
  • Support and assist with those who feel that completing FISA would be a beneficial part of their strategy and planning
  • Refine the concept and requirements of the ‘Integrity Tick’, and
  • Progress work with those financial organisations who are working towards the ‘Integrity Tick’.

The FISA Self-Assessment will be sent out to financial organisations in 2021.

 

Secondary Legislation changes – Will it deliver?

Julie Haggie
Chief Executive Officer
Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ)

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, the Parliamentary Counsel Office (PCO) has continued to work on the Access to Secondary Legislation project. They now report on this in their latest technical update.

Secondary legislation is the term for regulations and other types of law that are made under powers delegated by Parliament to other entities, such as government agencies or local government. There are currently over 2,500 existing provisions, in more than 550 Acts, which delegate power to make secondary legislation.

The project is an important element of the government’s promise to give New Zealanders access to the secondary legislation that impacts their lives. This is a commitment made under the Open Government Partnership third National Action Plan.

Historically, there has been inconsistency in the level of Parliamentary oversight and application of these provisions, along with poor public access. This problem has been well identified including in a 2014 report by the Productivity Commission, and in TINZ’s 2013 National Integrity System Assessment (NIS), and again in the 2018 NIS update.

TINZ’s February 2020 submission on the Secondary Legislation Bill emphasised that getting the legislation to be more consistent is one thing. But an equally high priority ought to ensure people can access the secondary legislation.

The latest update from the PCO indicates that members of the public may have to follow a breadcrumb link from the general legislation to the agency responsible for regulation, in order to find the detail of that regulation. The quality of access and updating will be reliant on the resource and commitment at each agency with responsibility for the regulation. This seems a light version of the original vision.  TINZ will be following that up with the PCO.

 

Are we all in this together: equally?

Tod Cooper
TINZ Director
Special interest areas include Procurement, Online Training and Whistleblowing

Tod Cooper
TINZ Director
Focus on Procurement

We hear a lot about being in this together. Why? Because a virus threatens us all. It does not discriminate, and neither should we.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency – but it is far more. It is an economic crisis. A social crisis. And a human crisis that is fast becoming a human rights crisis. People and their rights must be front and centre.

António Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

Human rights under threat

Bottling up all the issues Guterres has spoken about, leads to a recipe for vulnerability, for exploitation – for a global human rights disaster. The Walk Free Foundation’s Protecting People in a Pandemic Report calls it a perfect storm for exploitation.

We need to consider how we continue to respond to this pandemic in the weeks, months and years ahead, ensuring that the rights of people are protected.

Never in our lifetimes have there been so many vulnerable New Zealanders because of: 

  • the situation COVID-19 has put them under 
  • the lack of alternative employment opportunities available to them 
  • travel restrictions that limit employment and social norms.

Recovery requires responsibility and accountability 

As New Zealand adapts to a little more freedom under COVID-19 Alert Level 3, we are already seeing instances of workers being put at risk by employers not acting in good faith. Examples include: implementing insufficient (and potentially unlawful) health measures and contact tracing; not providing adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to their staff and customers; and having disregard for, or inadequate controls over social distancing. This is only the beginning – times are tough!

Businesses have also fallen on hard times, and all these measures impact on profit margins, and organisations’ abilities to bounce back quickly. Those that are lucky enough to recommence operations under Alert level 3 and subsequent Level 2, must take that opportunity with the responsibility and accountability that comes with it. We need to enforce this – the rule of law here is critical.

Sadly, there have been a number of recent interviews across the media with workers who have been subjected to unnecessary virus exposure. They have been forced into that situation, often with little choice. Their financial situations, like many of us, drive them to accept unlawful conditions that put them, their families, and their communities at risk. Should they just be grateful to have their job back – and tolerate such risk?

Do we think it is acceptable to exploit the vulnerable situation of others, for our own personal gain? No! Remember most will not have a safety net:

  • There are few if any alternative jobs available. Roles which normally attracted dozens of applications, are now attracting hundreds 
  • Workers cannot readily travel between cities or countries at the moment
  • Many of our hospitality and primary sector workers are here on a temporary working visa.

Safeguards for migrants

New Zealand is heavily reliant on migrant workers, with a large proportion on a temporary visa. These are our most vulnerable workers. When they run out of money, they have little to no recourse to other sources of finance. Many may be forced to become unlawful workers as there are simply no welfare systems to support them and no ability to return home with closed borders or available and affordable flights. So what are their options?

As they face the reality of poverty, this by definition makes them extremely vulnerable to exploitation from unscrupulous employers who put profits before human rights. In turn, these employers will undercut competition and further impact other businesses trying their best to recover within the rules of law.

Workers’ unions such as FIRST, E TU, UNITE and PSA seem to be active in support of their members and provide good general advice in this area. In addition, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has all but completed a review on Temporary Migrant Worker Exploitation (due in early 2020). However, COVID-19 has been a game changer.

So, while the virus does not discriminate, the resultant social, economic, and human rights impacts certainly does. Inequality is of considerable concern where there are no alternatives. 

Triple paradox

We live in unprecedented times, and this requires unprecedented actions to address unprecedented consequences.

Let us not allow a health disaster to turn into a humanitarian disaster. Our Government and our people must be transparent, responsive, accountable, and responsible. It is not in our DNA to ignore someone in need. New Zealanders need to show the tangata whenua values of manaakitanga and aroha to those in our care, now more than ever, no matter the cost.

To report migrant exploitation:

  • call the MBIE Service Centre on 0800 20 90 20.
  • anonymously, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or fill out a form on www.crimestoppers-nz.org.nz .  

For help or support

  • PSA Freephone 0508 367 772
  • Unite 0800 2 UNITE (0800 286 483) or direct dial (09) 845 2132
  • 0800 1 UNION (0800 186 466)

The Citizen’s Handbook: Satire encourages citizenship

David Dunsheath

TINZ Member with Delegated Authority for Open Government

Transparency Times Newsletter Co-editor

Satire has been very successfully deployed to teach New Zealanders how to be good citizens in a new ten-part podcast and video dual series, The Citizen’s Handbook. It empowers its two audiences with knowledge of how this country came to be, how it currently works, and how we can face the challenges that lie ahead.

Humour, irony, exaggeration and ridicule are intertwined for appeal and absorption by a wide audience. Whereas the humour alone will entertain younger listeners and viewers, the quite densely packed and thoroughly researched information will engage young adults and above. 

Scope and purpose

Initial episodes raise awareness of New Zealand’s darker colonial history. Later episodes educate their audience on aspects of current politics, law, economics and international relations, in an effective and accessible way. For example, individual episodes focus on the government, our constitution, law making, law enforcement, the court system, managing the economy and foreign affairs.

This series encourages citizens’ greater participation in our democratic processes. It aims to tell people how New Zealand came to be and how it works, so they know that if the current system isn’t working for them – they can change it.

Podcast series

The podcasts provide a leisurely, conversational style exploration of the facts. ‘Lies’ interspersed within narratives, are later de-bunked in a quiz competition between presenters. This format effectively encourages listeners’ recall and reinforcement of facts recently presented.

Video series

Co-creator and host, Robbie Nicol, engagingly presents a logical sequence of issues and facts in parallel with the podcasts. Cartoon and other illustrations reinforce specific messages. Each episode commences with an enacted farce to introduce the topic. For more conservative viewers, such farce will seem amateurish and trite. But fast-forwarding several minutes will reveal the meaty content.

Filling the vacuum

Co-creator Finnius Teppett observed: “Researching and writing this series made us angry, frustrated, sad, hopeful, bewildered, and grateful. But mostly just really, really bewildered. So many urgently important stories leapt out at us, and so many unbelievable jokes just wrote themselves. We cover a lot of ground in the series, and we get to be quite naughty and silly, but hopefully it’s enough to get our audience to start looking at our country in a new, more critical way.” (Scoop – 3 April 2020).

This reviewer encourages wide viewing, particularly by referral to your younger family and friends:

[Ed: this review was updated on 9 May 2020]

TINZ Team

TINZ engages New Zealand and New Zealanders in a broad range of issues related to building stronger integrity systems to mitigate the impact of bribery and corruption. TINZ Directors, Members with Delegated Authority and staff provide subject matter expertise in the topic areas of interest.

TINZ Subject Matter Experts, current at the time of this newsletter publication, can be can be found at TINZ Team May 2020. To view by topic, visit the category page which lists TINZ topics and respective current subject matter experts.