Climate change and destruction of nature apparently of most concern to young people

10 October 2017

Worldwide a substantial majority of those aged between 18 -35 are optimistic and see the world as full of opportunity, even though only 50% believe they can actively contribute to decision-making in their countries.  That is a conclusion drawn from responses to the Global Shapers Annual Survey for 2017 released last month under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. The survey is compiled from responses of about 25,000 members of the Global Shapers Community –  with input proportional to nationality.  The New Zealand hub had 20 respondents (30% male).  (Perhaps the less forceful influence of young voters on the general election results than the predicted “youthquake”, confirms the survey finding that many young people question whether they can actively contribute to decision-making in their country.)

The survey shows that climate change and large-scale conflicts are real global concerns to those under 35.   As in previous years the most serious global issue is “climate change/destruction of nature” ( 48.8% of votes ).  “Large-scale conflict/wars” is ranked second,  and third is “inequality (income, discrimination)”  with 38.9% and 30.8% of votes respectively.

The Middle East and North Africa is the only region that ranks “large-scale conflict/wars” as the top issue (53.6%)  followed by “religious conflicts” (38.8%) and “poverty” (29.9%).

Reflecting concern for climate change, over 91% of young people “agree” and “strongly agree” with the statement that “science has proven that humans are responsible for climate change”. There is striking difference though between different income-level economies. In the low-income category, only 37.8% “strongly agree”, while across the other income-level groups no fewer than 71% “strongly agree”.

With the exception of Oceania, respondents consider that corruption remains the most pressing concern in their own countries.   “Government accountability and transparency/corruption” again ranked 1st with 46.9% of votes globally. It is followed by “inequality” (38.1%) and “lack of economic opportunity/ employment” (30.5%).

Apparently young Australians and New Zealanders see things differently.   “Climate change/destruction of nature” continues to be their top concern (63.3%) both globally and at the country level.  For the 238 Australian and New Zealand respondents (designated as Oceania), climate change is more than a global issue.  The survey observes that “ it is something that affects young people in their everyday life and that is already affecting their future and immediate environment”.



Should giving hackers access to data about 143 million customers diminish a company’s suitability to advise US on tax integrity?

6 October 2017

A characteristic common to publicly funded agencies is ensuring their appropriation is spent – use it or lose it. This may be seen as a splurge in the final days of the financial year.  Last week – the end of the United States Government fiscal year – saw an extraordinary example of this. The IRS has been troubled by tax-identity fraud and data breaches.  Congress earmarked more than $100 million for cybersecurity upgrades and identity theft prevention measures. But remedial progress has been slow.  Nothing  exceptional there.

What is surprising is that on 30 September the Federal Business Opportunities database (more flexible than the GETS “awarded contracts” facility on the NZ Government Procurement website)  indicated that a “sole source order”  for $7.25 million had been awarded by the IRS to a credit service provider to “verify taxpayer identity” and “assist in ongoing identity verification and validations”. Apparently only one company was deemed capable of providing the service, needed promptly to prevent a lapse in identity checks. while officials resolved other contractual issues. There was no contest.

As the financial year expired, a contract was awarded to one of the three main US credit checking agencies – the chief executive of which had devised a corporate strategy of gathering as much personal data as possible and finding new ways to sell it.

However the company has admirable corporate documents.   Its ten core values begin with “ Commitment to Integrity” and “Understanding that our employees are trusted stewards of our data, we strive to demonstrate unyielding integrity that is transparent in our actions…” and so on.

The company understands the market place;  “Data breaches are on the rise. Be prepared.”  “You’ll feel safer with (us)…”

It was “…strengthening its legacy of excellence, integrity and reliability.”   Apparently for the IRS it would a good partner  “to safeguard the integrity of our tax administration system.”

But the company is Equifax.  A company which only weeks previously experienced a major data breach exposing social security numbers, personal information and credit worthiness details of about 143 million people in the United States, and undisclosed numbers in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Equifax is also one of three credit reporting companies in New Zealand.  Its website states that Equifax holds data on more than 3.4 million credit-active individuals and approximately 600,000 companies and businesses throughout New Zealand, providing customers with the ability to make more informed decisions.  There has been no publicity about any New Zealanders’ records being exposed, possibly as the Australian and New Zealand operations of Equifax, bought from Veda in 2016, may not have been integrated into the company’s North American systems. Nonetheless these “credit-active individuals” are unlikely to consider themselves to be “customers” of Equifax.

Equifax discovered on 29 July that its US data had been accessible to hackers since May.  The Congressional Energy and Commerce Committee chairman said it was as if “the guards at Fort Knox forgot to lock the doors”. It was more than a month later before the hack was publicly announced.  The chief executive stood down.

But matters get worse. The US Justice Department has begun a criminal investigation into circumstances behind the sale of $1.8 million worth of company shares by three executives several days after the data breach was found – and weeks before it became public knowledge.

.The Senate Finance Committee Chairman said  that “In the wake of one of the most massive data breaches in a decade, it’s irresponsible for the IRS to turn over millions in taxpayer dollars to a company that has yet to offer a succinct answer on how at least 145 million Americans had personally identifiable information exposed”.



NZ Ombudsman established 55 years ago

4 October 2017

Fifty-five years ago ( 1 October 1962 ) New Zealand appointed its first Ombudsman.  This was the first such appointment outside of Scandinavia.  Empowered by Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) Act 1962, a “simple” 29 section Act, the Ombudsman was charged with investigating and reporting to Parliament on maladministration in Departments of State.  The Ombudsman could respond to a complaint or act on his own motion.   A process of reporting findings to the relevant agency or to the relevant Minister and including recommendations in the Annual Report remain a core aspect of the current Ombudsman’s Act.  It was a further 20 years before the Official Information Act extended the jurisdiction to enforce the provisions of the Official Information Act. Subsequently the Office took on responsibilities under the Protected Disclosures Act and the Crimes of Torture Act.

The Schedule to the Parliamentary Commissioner (Ombudsman) Act listed the “Government Departments” to which the Act applied and “Other Organisations”.  The Schedule reflects how much the machinery of government has changed over the intervening 55 years.

There were 43 Departments – without distinguishing between Public Service departments and those that were not Public Service; eg the Air Department, Army Department and Navy Department, Police Department, NZ Government Railways Department, Post Office, State Fire and Accident Insurance Office,  NZ Government Life Insurance Office, and Tourism and Publicity Department were listed.  The Law Drafting Office and the Legislative Department were separate agencies, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was undivided, the Department of Justice was still monolithic, as was the Works Department, and the Public Service Commission which employed all public servants ( later to become the State Services Commission ). The Department of Maori Affairs, Maori Trust Office and Department of Island Territories had not been integrated, and so on.

A further 22 agencies were listed as Other Organisations.  These included the Government Stores Board, National Provident Fund Board, National Roads Board and so on, including parts of departments that were legally outside the direct control of the relevant Minister.

The Schedule included “The” in the title of every agency.

The first Ombudsman, Guy Powles (knighted in 1962) was a Wellington lawyer. As a colonel he commanded NZ Artillery in the Pacific theatre in 1944, before becoming a founding member of the Department of External Affairs working on issues arising from the surrender of Japan. Appointed  Governor of Samoa in 1949 he spent the next ten years preparing that territory for independence. He was the High Commissioner to India until becoming the Ombudsman in 1962 – a role he held for 15 years.

Peter Boshier, the incumbent Chief Ombudsman, is the eighth to hold that office.

More face saving needed by Facebook?

3 October 2017

Does the New Zealand general election mean much in the international scheme of things?

A litmus test may be the extent to which the Great Powers have interfered in the electoral process.  Research published in the International Studies Quarterly in June 2016 indicates that there is a long history of governments attempting to help or hinder candidates or parties in other countries’ elections.  The United States and the USSR/Russia have intervened in one of every nine national executive elections between 1946 and 2000.

These 117 PEIGs (Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers) don’t include more intrusive and covert regime-changing operations.  The research was published before recent problematic elections, but shows that in the 12 years preceding the 2016 US Presidential election, known PEIGs occurred in Moldova, Ukraine, Lebanon, Kenya and Afghanistan – and no doubt others remain undisclosed.

It is apparent now that Russian interests exploited Facebook accounts and paid for at least $100,000 of related advertising in the lead up to the last US  Presidential election. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook has acknowledged that taking down only 470 accounts – which were “liked” to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm – may have been insufficient.  Measures were then introduced to avoid a recurrence elsewhere, and to ensure the integrity of the German elections  (the same weekend as the New Zealand general election).   Facebook reported taking down “tens of thousands” of fake accounts in Germany. It also acknowledged that it had removed 30,000 accounts before the French election. (The New Zealand election didn’t get a mention.)

Facebook reported that it didn’t entirely quash fake accounts and false news.  Its actions “… did not eliminate misinformation entirely in this (German) election — but they did make it harder to spread, and less likely to appear in people’s News Feeds.”  Facebook now accepts that there had been widespread political misinformation on its platform, that it learned a lot, and will continue to apply those lessons in other national elections. Zuckerberg said that Facebook will hire more staff to work on election security, collaborate with election commissions world-wide, and share threat intelligence with other social media companies. He indicated that “We’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency.” … “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.”

The potential of social media in the New Zealand general election appears not to have interested the Great Powers.  According to Bryce Edwards social media hasn’t even been exploited by the New Zealand contestants “… but instead it’s become largely about stunts and sanitised PR”.  The potential of Facebook may show when special votes are counted and if social media-generated spontaneous registrations on Election Day impact on the tally of those who followed standard enrollment procedures.

If this turns out to be the case, we may well question whether Facebook is concerned with the integrity of the democratic process. It will confirm the intended purpose of Facebook – to connect, to gather market information, and to sell.  But it may also confirm that Facebook must be regarded as a Great Power.  It has more than 2 billion active users. It is growing “exponentially”. It is predicted to number 30% of the global population next year… which would be speedier if China allowed its people to take part. It is bigger than any Power, great and small.

Facebook’s broadcast of fake news about the Las Vegas mass killing overnight, attributing the maniacal shooting to an incorrectly named, Trump-hating liberal, must seriously undermine the value of Zuckerberg’s assurance of transparency and integrity.

It may be that even our democracy needs to protect itself against a PEIG by Facebook.

New Zealand continues to score well in Worldwide Governance Indicators

1 October 2017

Last week, the World Bank, in association with the Brookings Institute, released the 2016 Worldwide Governance Indicators report.  This builds on the statistical series developed over the last 20 years, now incorporating individual and aggregated governance indicators for more than 200 countries (and territories) assessing six dimensions of governance. These are

  • Voice and Accountability
  • Political Stability and Absence of Violence
  • Government Effectiveness
  • Regulatory Quality
  • Rule of Law
  • Control of Corruption

The previous indicators were for 2011.  New Zealand ranked among the Top 10 (best scoring) countries on all six dimensions at that time.  It has maintained that position in the 2016 indicators.  The score for Voice and Accountability increased one point, Control of Corruption was unchanged, and the score for the other dimensions slipped one point.

The Tables below show New Zealand’s comparative ratings (these are my extract from the data sets) in 2011 and 2016.

Worldwide Governance Indicators 2011 – Ten top ranking countries (descending order)

Voice and Accountability Political Stability Government Effectiveness Regulatory Quality Rule of Law Controlling Corruption
Switzerland Liechtenstein Finland Denmark Finland Denmark
Norway Finland Denmark New Zealand Sweden New Zealand
Denmark New Zealand Sweden Luxembourg Denmark Sweden
Sweden Luxembourg New Zealand Netherlands New Zealand Finland
Luxembourg Switzerland Switzerland Sweden Norway Luxembourg
Liechtenstein Sweden Netherlands Singapore Netherlands Netherlands
Finland Iceland Norway Australia Luxembourg Norway
New Zealand Singapore Liechtenstein Finland Australia Australia
Netherlands Netherlands Australia Ireland Ireland Singapore
Iceland Denmark Luxembourg Switzerland Switzerland Switzerland


Worldwide Governance Indicators 2016 – Ten top ranking countries (descending order)

Voice and Accountability Political Stability Government Effectiveness Regulatory Quality Rule of Law Controlling Corruption
Norway Singapore Singapore Singapore Norway Finland
Sweden New Zealand (2nd=) Switzerland New Zealand (2nd=) Sweden New Zealand (1st=)
Finland Liechenstein Norway Netherlands Singapore Singapore
Netherlands Luxembourg Denmark Liechenstein Finland Sweden
Denmark Netherlands Finland Switzerland Switzerland Denmark
Switzerland Switzerland New Zealand Sweden New Zealand Norway
Liechenstein Iceland Netherlands Australia Denmark Australia
New Zealand Sweden Sweden Finland Netherlands Switzerland
Iceland Australia Liechtenstein Sweden Ireland Netherlands
Australia Finland Luxembourg Iceland Liechenstein Luxembourg


The indicators reflect more than 30 different data sources, and build on “the experiences and perceptions of thousands of experts and survey respondents worldwide”. The data sources include well-known surveys,  and numerous expert assessments produced by the private sector, non-government organisations, and public sector agencies.

The World Bank interest recognises that good governance is essential to national development.  “…Governance is, after all, the process by which governments are selected and replaced; it is about the policy choices they make and implement;  and it is about the respect of citizens and the state for the laws and traditions that govern their interactions.  Each of these aspects of governance matters for development, and so unsurprisingly rich countries on average rank higher in the WGI than poor countries do…”  What the indicators show however is that some developing and emerging countries such as Botswana, Costa Rica, and Uruguay rank higher, for example on Control of Corruption, than some western economies.

The interactive dataset on the WGI website enables detailed comparisons of governance developments within and among countries.





NZSIS comes in from the cold – spying with integrity

30 September 2017

The number of Public Service departments went up again on Friday when substantial parts of the Security and Intelligence Act 2017 came into force.  As s 7 of the Act states, the NZSIS is now a department of State – adding it to the other 29 listed in Schedule 1 to the State Sector Act.  The Act also confirms that the GCSB continues as a department of State.

Interestingly, few other agencies are prescribed by statute as being departments of State.  The Oranga Tamariki Act which established the 28th Public Service department earlier this year did not specify that the agency was a department of State.  Inclusion in Schedule 1 to the State Sector Act creates a department as part of the Public  Service (non-inclusion confirms that some agencies are “non Public Service” departments ), and by implication, makes public servants of departmental  employees.

NZSIS “spooks” are now public servants. GCSB staff have been public servants since 2003 when that department was added to Schedule 1. With a single Act covering the activities of both security agencies, their staff will have common obligations to the State Services Commissioner’s Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services.  ( As a “non Public Service” department, NZSIS was part of the State Services but like Police and the NZ Defence Force had agency-specific integrity commitments. )

November marks the 10th anniversary of the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services being issued to more than 120 departments and Crown entities – and subsequently to numerous Crown entity subsidiaries.  The State Services Commissioner imposed expectations based on a broad meaning which the State Sector Act gives to integrity – “…Integrity is the inclusive and all-embracing description of these ethical requirements. The headings under which the standards have been grouped – Fair, Impartial, Responsible and Trustworthy – are indicative of integrity.  Integrity itself is pervasive and implicit in all the standards…”  This reflects the adage of Alan K Simpson that if you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.

One of the complexities of a code applying equally to agencies with functions covering the spectrum of government has been resolved in time for the appointment of Ministerial staff to the incoming Government.  The political neutrality obligation previously applied equally to staff who work for the Government in roles that have a political dimension. The code of conduct for Ministerial Staff issued on 12 September 2017 now permits this group of State servants to serve the political aspirations of the Government, exempting them from the requirement to act with political neutrality set out in the “We are Impartial”  standard.  Ministerial staff can act professionally when undertaking partisan activities, whereas the Appendix to the SSC guidance on Understanding the Code indicates that it would not be professional to “…engage in activities that undermine the State Services’ commitment to integrity and professionalism – in effect failing to meet the obligations to be fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy. ..”

A new challenge may now arise for NZSIS staff with the requirement to act honestly – an element of being trustworthy.  The SSC guidance is that “…We must not deceive or knowingly mislead…”  A NZSIS mantra is to neither confirm or deny.   The guidance on Understanding the Code goes some of the way to recognising this.

“…The principle of honesty underpins the obligations of all of us in the State Services. Public trust in the State Services will be determined primarily by the degree to which New Zealanders believe that at all times we act with honesty. We are expected to respond to what we believe to be true, and to act always with a focus on accuracy and authenticity.

Honesty does not necessarily mean continuous, full disclosure. In some circumstances, full disclosure is a requirement. Other circumstances may require care. For example, the courts have recognised that organisations with responsibility to enforce legislation cannot be required to openly disclose their evidence-gathering activities. It is sometimes necessary to disguise the way these activities are carried out. But these circumstances are rare. Unless there is a lawful reason for doing so, we must not act on the premise that the end justifies the means…”


NZ public sector seen again as the World’s least corrupt

25 January 2017

Transparency International has published its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016.

New Zealand which had been shunted aside from the top perch that it had occupied from 2005 -2014 has regained crowing rights.  It is the only country rated in the top 15 places of the CPI that improved its score in 2016. Most among the leaders were unchanged, although Norway dropped two points and the Netherlands dropped four points. New Zealand, scoring two more points than last year, moved back into equal first ranking with Denmark (which dropped one point). Australia remains in 13th place.  The majority of the 178 countries with public sectors included in the 2016 CPI were rated more poorly than in 2015. The perception is that in most countries if there is a focus on government integrity, it is insufficient to counter declining standards.

There is no obvious explanation for New Zealand going against the trend. It could be as simple as a misreading of public sector standards in 2015 – or perhaps this time!  A willingness for Government to work with Transparency International on implementing recommendations in the 2013 National Integrity Systems Report for New Zealand may have influenced perceptions. The Office of the Auditor-General has continued its emphasis on Trusted State Services. There have been other influences and counterbalances – the appointees to Chief Ombudsman and the Head of the State Services appear to be demanding higher standards from agencies while at the same time some senior officials in transport agencies in local government and nationally, have been the subject of Serious Fraud Office proceedings. The Better Public Services Goals have persisted, although the Performance Improvement Framework for agencies seems to have a diminishing priority. What is evident is the strengthening of civil society institutions. Examples are how the New Zealand chapter of Transparency International (TINZ), the Open Government Partnership Stakeholder Group, and the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (VUW) have matured,  consolidated, and membership enthusiasm has morphed into expertise.  TINZ, for instance, is unlikely now to release a report as it did in 2013 indicating that 44% of New Zealanders thought government actions against corruption were ineffective – and one hopes would no longer give credibility as it then did to an extrapolation from a survey that 3% of the population had paid bribes equally to Police, Judges, the education system, for medical services and for registry and permit services.  It seems highly improbable that 3% of New Zealanders have had contact with a judge let alone sought out a judge to pay them a bribe. As the probability of 3% of the population bribing medical professionals is equally incredible, there must be doubt about the other “ findings” published at that time. In a marked contrast, the United States chapter of Transparency International this week was dis-accredited by the parent body.

For an integrity geek, today’s CPI results are a heartening confirmation that the public sector is not destined to sink under the weight of self-interest.  With few exceptions,  State servants have a deeply rooted commitment to trustworthiness. That hasn’t changed. There are ebbs and flows in the focus placed on integrity.  The mantra of being fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy summarising the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services is seldom heard these days and less frequently featured in print.  Perhaps the CPI results reflect an imbued goodness and spirit of service.

And that may contribute to New Zealand rating 4th in the Democracy Index published today by the Economist Intelligence Unit – trailing Norway, Iceland and Sweden among the 19 “Full Democracies”.  Australia is 10th, UK 16th and the United States is now in 21st place having fallen among the “Flawed Democracies” even before the epiphany of “alternative facts”.