3 May 2011

 New Zealand State servants get a quadruple whammy of goodness.  The Cabinet Manual requires that they must act with the spirit of service to the community and meet high standards of integrity and conduct in everything they do. The Cabinet Manual is reinforced by the State Services code of conduct setting 18 standards of integrity and conduct for them. This is overlaid with the State Sector Act requirement that they are to be imbued with the spirit of service, and the departmental chief executive obligation under the section 56 of that Act to ensure that all employees maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct, and concern for the public interest.

 Numerous international comparisons show that New Zealanders have very low tolerance for corruption, It seems arguable therefore that a degree of perversity is needed for officials to misbehave in a way which harms the reputation of the State Services.

The Ministry of Justice is currently promoting awareness of the 2010 Crime and Safety Survey.  The findings are that there is surprisingly little change in the incidence of crime since a 2005 survey, except for statistically significant reductions in domestic violence and vehicle theft.  The survey also gathered participants’ levels of confidence in several justice sector agencies. Prison officers rate poorly compared with the Police, jurors and judges.     

Whatever may have influenced that perception when the participants were interviewed for the survey, will be reinforced by a media report this week that several prison officers have had sexual relationships with prisoners.  The Department of Corrections has commented that while such relationships were rare,  they were utterly inappropriate.  “It’s at the serious end of the scale. It compromises someone’s ability to operate independently. We have a code of conduct which all staff receive when they first join and it does talk about inappropriate relationships with offenders.”

Such behaviour also breaches obligations to be “fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy”.