21 October 2011

The Canadian Public Service is to get a new code of conduct.  Ironically criticism this week is about the weakening of obligations which are rumoured to form part of the revision. Allegedly the Government is seeking to standardise obligations for officials and their Ministers.

The existing code, which came into force in 2003 requires that “In carrying out their official duties, public servants should arrange their private affairs in a manner that will prevent real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest from arising.” Canadian Ministers are not subject to the same perception constraint and have less demanding expectations regarding the disclosure of interests.

The New Zealand situation is different. The Cabinet Manual setting out the ethical standards required of Ministers repeatedly refers to the importance of perception when managing conflicts of interest. Para 2.64 makes it clear that “Public perception is a very important factor”.

The Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services specify that being trustworthy requires officials to “…decline gifts or benefits that place us under any obligation or perceived influence”

The importance of integrity and conduct in the New Zealand State Services got its yearly fillip this week with the State Services Commissioner’s annual report on the State Services, which forms part of the SSC Annual Report – a report within a report. The Commissioner highlights only two elements – the Performance Improvement Framework and Integrity and Conduct; the essence of good government is effectiveness and integrity.