11 July 2011

Good government needs widespread public trust in state agencies. Unless agencies and people working for them act in trustworthy ways, voluntary compliance with law diminishes and communities crumble. Corruption grows where officials fail to do a proper job. Public confidence in politicians is also desirable but the pursuit of power inherent in politics engenders cynicism. Politicians always rate poorly in trustworthiness surveys. Their rating is usually only marginally better than the media – which ironically is attributed with a quasi constitutional function of promoting openness in government, of keeping government honest.

The News of the World scandal must influence perceptions of the trustworthiness of both the media and Ministers. But this corrosion of good government will be worsened by the apparent involvement of police officers. Not only were there illegal disclosures and corrupt payments made for that information, but there can be little confidence in the professionalism of internal investigations. Who watches the watchers? Scotland Yard now deeply regrets the adequacy of the investigation.  The matter has been “a very damaging episode for us and we have got to work hard to rebuild the trust in the Met”. Reports are that as many as 12 officers could be convicted of accepting payments from the News of the World and jailed.

Transparency International earlier this year published “Corruption in the UK” suggesting that there is a greater level of corruption in Britain than is widely accepted, with corruption risks across several sectors. It identified the weakening of several anti-corruption bodies, although noting that bribery within the police force was not endemic.

All State sector employees in New Zealand are required to act in a trustworthy way. Being “fair, impartial responsible and trustworthy” are the principles of public service prescribed in the Cabinet Manual. The UMR Mood of the Nation survey provides an annual snapshot of levels of public confidence in a range of agencies. Respondents evaluating whether agencies do very good or good job place the Fire Service in the top spot year on year with 94% in the most recent survey. NZ Police were next with 77%.