Transparency questionnaire for 2020 General Election: Commentary on political party responses

by TINZ Elections Team

Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) posed seven questions to political parties on topics of transparency.

TINZ first asked each party how they will address corruption during the post pandemic recovery. Then about political party and campaign funding, their code of ethics, protection for whistleblowers, United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, open government and beneficial ownership. 

This article contains our commentary about the responses to each question and TINZ’s assessment about the answers of each political party. 

TINZ thanks all 10 participating political parties for making the effort to respond to its 7 questions. Thanks also to Anne Gilbert, our Public Sector Project Manager for her initiative in collecting the responses.

This was a tough ask when the campaign period is as short as it is and when, in most cases, parties’ own internal practice lacks many of the formal processes that shape integrity systems. For example, the responses from party organisations showed they have limited codes of ethics and few specific anti-corruption policies.

We asked each political party to respond to these 7 questions on the basis that their responses be published verbatim. Accordingly, the parties’ responses published in Election 2020 questionnaire responses are “all their own words”.

Readers have an opportunity to open the link and form their own view of these responses.

TINZ Commentary

Below is a high-level assessment of the parties’ responses.

TINZ remains concerned that political parties are largely unaware of New Zealand’s vulnerability to the impact of corruption originating from overseas. They are generally naive about: 

  • how our international reputation for strong integrity attracts the corrupt on one hand,
  • while on the positive side, strengthening New Zealand’s integrity systems to prevent this corruption has the potential to accrue value to their constituencies and to our economy.

The answers as written, portray a dangerous lack of awareness by all political parties of the damage that could be done to New Zealand’s reputation through government failure to recognise and protect our country against offshore corrupt practice.

Commentary about the 7 questions

Post pandemic recovery

With the COVID-19 crisis top of mind and the economic recovery a hot topic, political parties appear to be largely unaware of the propensity for external flows of illicit funds to hide behind any crisis. As has been seen from the cyber corruption faced by the NZX, this can interfere with the operations of local organisations. Loose beneficial ownership regulation impacts the local economy and dampens recovery by driving up prices of local housing, commercial property, and high valued goods.

The political party answers to the first question about dealing with corruption during the post pandemic recovery reflect some knowledge about local anti-corruption processes but limited knowledge about the nature of the overseas corruption threat.

Political party and campaign funding 

While the answers about political party and campaign funding show a far deeper understanding of current laws than in previous years, there is a disappointing lack of ambition to address gaps or concerns about foreign influence on our election.

Code of Ethics 

Also disappointing are the responses to the question about the role of a Code of Ethics. While 9 of the 10 political parties describe practices designed to ensure transparency around pecuniary interests, the Labour Party is the only party to state that it has a code of conduct for its members. The Māori Party provides references to its comprehensive constitution driven by its values proposition.

TINZ recommends that all organisations adopt Codes of Ethics, designed from the bottom up and supported by staff. This contrasts with Codes of Conduct, often dictated from the top and enforced through compliance.

Research has repeatedly demonstrated that the best antidote for corruption are strong integrity systems. Codes of Ethics provide explicit guidelines that support these systems.

Given the Debbie Francis report and the spate of activity for Parliament to adopt a Code of Conduct just before the House rose, TINZ had high expectations that political parties would be prepared and knowledgeable when responding to this question. An ideal answer would have referred both to each political party’s own code and the features the party wants to include in a Code of Ethics for Parliament.

Protection for whistle-blowers 

As the New Zealand First party says, when it comes to the protection of whistle blowers, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

While all ten political parties say they want to achieve protected disclosure, none provide details about what they would do other than support the key deficiencies addressed by the current bill in front of the house.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

TINZ’s ideal answer to its question about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would refer to the Governance Goal 16 and a commitment to its key objectives to (i) good governance to prevent corruption and (ii) a consistent international measure to monitor levels of corruption.

Unsurprisingly, considering the lack of progress with the SDGs over the last few years, the responses to TINZ’s question about SDGs show little understanding of the issues.

Open Government

All political parties support open government.

The Labour Party response proposed a more ambitious approach to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) following the election. TINZ has been advocating for this

Other parties appear to be unaware of the specific OGP process and suggest various policies such as better access to government information as options to open up government.

Beneficial Ownership 

When it comes to beneficial ownership, the views of the different political parties are more diverse than for the other 6 topics.

The National Party cautions: “We need to carefully balance the rights of privacy with those of public disclosure…”

New Zealand First Party’s answer is closest to TINZ proposals for “better transparency around beneficial ownership of companies and trusts and the introduction of a publicly accessible register.”

Common thread of limited awareness with less complacency

A common thread that runs through the answers suggests a lack of basic knowledge about the threat of corruption and the key policies and practices required to address this threat.

The good news, however, is that all 10 parties show evidence of taking these questions seriously. There is less complacency. This is an important change in behaviour, especially given all the other things going on at this time.

While not one party would achieve an excellent grade, all the respondents would score over 50% if this was an exam.

Follow this link to the Election 2020 questionnaire responses

Political Parties’ highlight different approaches to address corruption

National

Despite major achievements in addressing corruption and a stated commitment to safeguarding New Zealand’s reputation during its previous term in office, the National Party’s answers are confined to expressing willingness to comply with anti-corruption legislation, while showing limited knowledge about the reasons that this legislation exists. 

The National Party’s approach to its candidates’ conflicts is less rigorous than the policies it imposes on public servants. Its answers to TINZ questions failed to do justice to the record of the National Government over its last 3 years in office (2014 -2017) when it ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), passed major omnibus anti-corruption legislation and tightened up beneficial ownership regulation.

Labour

The Labour Party’s answers reflect ongoing activity underway to address corruption.  It has a Code of Conduct for its members.  While leading the Coalition Government, it progressed policies and practices to strengthen integrity systems such as the proactive release of cabinet papers, briefing papers, minutes and key advice for decisions that the Government made. 

Its answers also demonstrate an understanding about more transparent ways of being accountable for political party funding, improving responsiveness of official information requests, managing conflicts and strengthening protected disclosure for whistleblowers. TINZ is watching carefully to see how Labour honours its ambitions for an effective Open Government Partnership.

New Zealand First

New Zealand First Party’s answers demonstrate growing awareness of the need for greater transparency around the disclosure of party funding sources, access to official information, the need to monitor and review the effectiveness of corruption laws and of the protected disclosure law.

Greens 

The Green Party’s responses describe some of its actual achievements including pioneering the proactive release of Green Party Ministers’ diaries.  Its answers in the TINZ 2017 pre-election survey demonstrated greater knowledge than the other political parties about the UN Sustainable Development Goals and how the strong governance provision of Goal 16 could assist in preventing corruption.  It was great to see in 2017 that somebody had read the Chapter 6 ‘Conclusions and Recommendations’ in the TINZ Integrity Plus 2013 New Zealand National Integrity System Assessment

The Green Party response takes things further with its own ideas about making lobbying more transparent by requiring Ministers to include organisations consulted in Regulatory Impact Statements and explanatory notes, and, to remove lobbyists’ Parliament access cards.

ACT

The ACT Party is focussed on transparent and accountable policies to re-start the economy.

Māori Party

In the previous TINZ 2017 pre-election survey, the New Zealand Māori Party was the only party providing evidence of its own anti-corruption practices and its recognition of the role of a comprehensive national anti-corruption programme. So, it is pleasing to see in its current answers that they show an understanding of the features of a strong integrity framework.

For the 2020 post pandemic recovery, the Māori Party will ensure a dedicated and separate unit fully resourced out of the Auditor-General Office to review all procurement decisions and also resource the Serious Fraud Office.

Social Credit

The New Zealand Democratic Party for Social Credit notes the limitations of bureaucracy in enforcing anti-corruption processes. 

The Opportunities Party

TOP Party states, “To prevent risks of corruption generally within our political  system, we have called for a Royal Commission to review our electoral laws. The electoral regime is currently inadequate to safeguard against the risks of undue influence or political access being exercised by private interests.”

TOP has provided a list of topics to be addressed by the review of the legislation covering the Official Information Act (OIA). 

Vision New Zealand

For the post pandemic recovery, the Vision New Zealand Party will demand ‘transparent processes and a level playing field for all companies and contractors wishing to tender for public works contracts with a review of the current GETS tendering application process”. 

It believes that any party that is under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office should have their party funding suspended until they have been cleared of allegation.  Further, “Vision New Zealand believes the application process for new political parties, through the Electoral Commission, needs to be more robust… [with] high standards and requirements for those individuals wishing to hold office in…any potential party.”

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party

The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party says that cannabis prohibition arose from a “corrupted system resulting in approximately 500,000 New Zealand citizens being criminalised over 45 years.”  Because of this, the ALCP understands the need for transparent decisions to protect individual freedoms and cultures.

Deeper engagement is better for corruption prevention

Answers to the 7 questions by the 10 political parties are more informed than for the previous survey. This increased engagement with the tools for preventing corruption in New Zealand, is a major step forward.  

It is a further step forward to be able to put the policies of the 10 political parties on the record. This provides the basis for greater levels of informed debate in the future. 

TINZ is publishing the answers from these political parties on our website, in social media and in releases to public media.

Our country’s reputation and future prosperity will be the better for this. 

Follow this link to the review each political party’s Election questionnaire responses

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