2 December 2011

The New Zealand Chapter of Transparency International seems embarrassed about the least corrupt public sector accolade awarded to New Zealand in the 2011 CPI. The local membership has a less rosy view of New Zealand’s circumstances than the expert assessors appointed by their Berlin-based parent organisation.

Yesterday’s TINZ media release is not just false modesty. It reflects a concern that agencies with a leadership role in the New Zealand public sector appear unwilling to exercise the institutional muscle which will counter deteriorating standards. A string of contributors to media blogs echo that view that all is not well despite the Index findings.

The reality of course is that the CPI is a perceptions based tool, applied consistently across the 183 countries assessed this year. The perceptions of New Zealand are still favourable, despite a number of survey respondents earlier this year indicating that they had paid bribes for public services. (A comment from several seasoned police officers is that receiving bribery offers is not unusual; allegedly what is unusual is any corrupt response to those offers.)

A pragmatist would observe that New Zealand’s least corrupt status in the CPI for the last 5 years, in the face of little structural emphasis on anti corruption, proves that action is unnecessary. What is relevant is the inherent culture of the community. New Zealand is blessed with a remarkably uncorrupt community.

But the Singapore experience may contradict that theory. Singapore progressively improved its standing on the CPI; 5th in 2004, 4th in 2008, 3rd in 2009 and 1st = in 2010. Transparency International warns against viewing the CPI as a time series. Year on year comparisons can be misleading. This year it has slipped again to 5th place. But comparisons with other countries in the same year’s Index are valid.

The difference between Singapore and New Zealand is that a fraud by two Singaporean officials involving more than $12 million, had a reputation-crushing effect. Four years ago, a similar fraud by an IT manager at Otago DHB, involving over $17 million, was generally regarded as isolated and aberrant.

The score attributed to New Zealand in this year’s CPI is 9.5 ( the highest ever awarded.)

A concern however should be the scores in Pacific public sectors;

Samoa (69th) 3.9; Vanuatu (77th) 3.5; Tonga (95th) 3.1; Solomon Islands (120th) 2.7; Timor Leste (143rd) 2.4; Papua New New Guinea (154th) 2.2.