20  September 2011

Fighting corruption attracts international media. This work of angels earns the endorsement of journalists everywhere.  The reality of course  is that rigorous and consistent efforts to combat corruption are flawed in all jurisdictions.  A quintessential illustration is  the commitment of China’s Government to protect intellectual property rights. Ministers make supportive comments but the commitment to relevant convention obligations is flawed.

(Declaring an interest: I was  duped when buying a Kingston 64 mb memory stick in a Shanghai shop over the weekend.  The stick was not merely a “knock-off” but was was not even capable of serving as a memory stick. Yet the vendor and all adjoining shops had boxes-full of this bogus stock.)

The Economist reports this week on the commitment of the club of the World’s rich states – the OECD –  to fighting corruption.  OECD members are bound by the Convention Against the Bribery of Foreign Officials.  Unlike many international instruments – and  UN conventions are among the worst – there is a compliance obligation.  “Members must pass laws making it an offence for their citizens or firms to pay, to offer or to promise money or any other reward in exchange for favours from officials in other countries. And governments must be seen to enforce these laws;  OECD bureaucrats and fellow members scrutinise each signatory to see how rigorously they investigate and punish foreign corrupt practices.”

The Economist comments that “the United States, which along with Germany is the keenest enforcer of the bribery accord, has had to undergo scrutiny at the hands of its peers and listen meekly to ideas for better enforcement. That contrasts sharply with the rejectionist American approach to many other forms of international legal scrutiny.”

Although New Zealand rates well in the Transparency International CPI, the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, the Ease of Doing Business Index and the Sustainable Governance Indicators, it is among the states with a minimal focus on enforcing the OECD Anti Corruption Convention obligations. It is one of the “usually virtuous” states that do little to meet obligations.

The APEC Anti Corruption working group in San Francisco last week had a focus on tools to strengthen public integrity.  These include disclosure systems and processes for  conducting investigations and prosecutions.  Strengthening the APEC Conduct Principles for Public Officials, adopted by APEC when meeting in Australia in 2007, was identified as a way of  combating corruption and illicit enrichment. But despite committing to the Conduct Principles, the extent of the New Zealand response is a report back on the APEC discussions.  No agency “owns” the Conduct Principles or has responsibility for promoting compliance.