10  January 2011

The potential for corruption is  ever present.  It is not deterred by the size of the state nor the homogeneity, connectedness or religiosity of its community.   Unless all officials are imbued with the spirit of service, have respect for the rule of law and are committed to the democratic process, self interest will inevitably be manifested in  misuse of power and public resources.

This is illustrated by the conviction of an American Samoan official this week.  In a small society, with a strong sense of community and tradition, where the influence of the church community is pervasive and everyone is known and connected, a calculated and continuing scheme to cheat the State became entrenched.  Over a three period, public servants ordered “phantom” parts for the territory’s school bus service. The parts, charged at inflated prices, were never delivered.  Bribes of more than $300,000  were paid to the complicit officials.

It is probable that others not benefiting from the fraud were aware of the scheme.  An ethical culture would oblige these people to report what they knew.  This is where protected disclosure processes should be available to overcome the constraints created by  cultural solidarity, and a reluctance to report malfeasance by colleagues.

NZ State Services employees are not only bound by their agency policies to behave with integrity and to report conduct that breaches that duty, but also by both Cabinet Manual and State Services Commissioner directions that their actions  must reflect the principles  public service – of being fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy.

Singapore, which in November 2010 joined New Zealand as the least corrupt public administration as assessed by Transparency International in its corruption perceptions index, is now troubled by its most serious  corruption case.  Although involving less than half the sum disclosed in a prosecution involving an Otago DHB senior manager in 2008, the media reports that the Singaporean prosecutor is seeking an exemplary punishment.