7 September 2011

Visiting Shanghai this week, I have been fascinated by lengthy queues at very many outlets about the city, waiting for the opportunity to buy moon cakes. With the holiday weekend ahead, the Zhongqiu festival is celebrated with the giving and receiving of moon cakes; a delicacy which to a western palate has little appeal. But the diligence of locals is admirable. The long weekend gives the opportunity for many to return to families living at a distance. Moon cakes are the expected marker of this major festival in the Chinese calendar. And in the Chinese style, it isn’t just the content that is important, but the appearance. Ornate packaging is part and parcel of the tradition.

At a time when some senior officials in New Zealand government agencies are apparently objecting, again, to the State Services Commissioner’s guidance about not accepting gifts and benefits, there is contrasting news here about a large transnational commercial operation. Based in one of the largest, newest and most impressive of the many large, new and impressive Shanghai towers, the company is enforcing rules that preclude staff from receiving gifts of moon cakes (and the company is not providing any for gifting) because to do so conveys an unacceptable impression of the professional relationship the company wants with its clients. In what can be an ethical swamp, being principled is seen as a priority.

Being principled is what is meant to underpin the spirit of service in New Zealand, the spirit that epitomises the State Services. But reports of senior officials wanting to accept offers of tickets to Rugby World Cup events seems to belie this and these leaders seem to be resiling from their duty to set an example. Something more usually associated with the Chinese environment than in New Zealand.

Gifts and hospitality reportedly accepted by senior Ministry of Economic Development staff (and interestingly the benefits are always offered to staff who are in influential and decision-making roles) are reminescent of the bad old days when that agency, in a former guise as the Department of Trade and Industry encountered troubles with some of its employees being unable to navigate an ethical course.

Do some need reminding of the 6 trust elements that agency leaders are expected to be entrenching in their organisations? These are;
– setting standards of integrity
– promoting those standards
– integrating those standards into operations
– managers modelling those standards
– agencies taking decisive action when standards are breached
– agency staff knowing the consequences of breaching standards