13 January 2011
The pillars good government are respect for the rule of law, support for the democratic process and officials selflessly serving their community. We expect everyone working in government to be committed to reinforcing these foundations.
Politicians should be public exemplars of standards. However, in most societies there are low levels of public confidence in the political process because too few politicians are seen as ethical leaders.
An incident in Washington last week provides an unfortunate illustration of self interest overriding any commitment to the democratic process and the rule of law. Two newly elected members of the House of Representatives, rather than taking part in the swearing-in ceremony for the House – which conveys the lawful powers to a representative and entitles them to participate in the work of Congress – chose to attend a fund raising gathering.
Meanwhile fellow representatives elected to the 112th Congress were emphasising the importance of democracy and the law by formally reading the Constitution. As in New Zealand, until being sworn in, Congressmen (and women) are not empowered to exercise the powers and privileges of office. But that tradition didn’t stop these two representatives who have since voted on business debated in the House. Special remedial procedures have now been necessary to legitimise matters.
Influential groups in the US are appalled. Complaints have been laid with the House ethics committee because of these breaches of Congressional rules, federal law and the Constitutional.
The December 2010 UMR Mood of the Nation survey reports that public confidence in the New Zealand Parliament declined 6% between 2009 and 2010. This was the largest confidence change in any of the institutions covered by the survey.