30 March 2012
The State Integrity Investigation website was launched in the United States earlier this year. NGO support comes from a coalition of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International. The strap line is “Keeping Government Honest”. The primary content is the outcome of an ethics template put over all US state administrations, measuring each against criteria grouped in 14 categories.
New Jersey, notorious for organised crime in the past – and setting for the Sopranos – surprised many by topping the scoring with a “B” at 87%. Of eight “F” rated states, Georgia scored worst with 49%.
Illinois scored well with a high C, at 74%. As Chicago has long been recognised as the most corrupt city in the country this state rating is equally surprising.
It was only last week that Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor began a 14 year prison term following his conviction relating to “selling” the Senate seat vacated when Obama was elected President.
The state is implementing a range of measures to reverse its reputation. A campaign against conflicts of interest is being led by the Chicago Mayor (when Obama’s chief of staff, he shaped the President’s commitment to government transparency). He is requiring a renewed focus on ethics training after an incident involving a senior manager in the schools’ administration accepting perks, and reports that hundreds of lower level employees were regularly given $25 vouchers by contract providers. As the disclosure policy specified a value of $50 before gifts needed to be registered, none ever was.
But the mayor has changed the emphasis. In addition to the trouble the employees are in, the Mayor is targeting those that provided the improper gifts; they involved public employees in breaching their duties. This is a new twist, tackling the suborning intention behind behaviour that puts others in a conflict of interest.
What may be common practice in relationship building in the private sector should be unacceptable in government. Benefits provided in this way have the effect of making the officials receptive to marketing approaches. This may be seen to conflict with the obligation to work in a fair, responsible and trustworthy way.
This pure line finds expression in the New Zealand Auditor General’s guidance that agency staff may only accept “…infrequent and inexpensive gifts that are openly distributed by suppliers and clients (for example, pens, badges, and calendars)”.
Disclosure: Yesterday, with a number of colleagues I attended a seminar put on by a prominent law firm followed by “refreshments”.