8 June 2012

Yesterday’s post reported on the Transparency International assessment of corruption risks across Europe. TI recognises the variety and variability of that risk. For example, it warns that Scandinavian countries, which score well on the corruption perceptions index, also face integrity threats. The concerns and the recommendations in the TI report have universal application.

Andrew Jackson summed it all up in his Presidential farewell address, 175 years ago, when declaring …. “that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty…”

New Zealand can take comfort from the extent to which the spirit of service has been imbued by most who work in the State Services. Few appear to exploit their official position for personal advantage;  described by Andrew Jackson as flowing …from cupidity, from corruption, from disappointed ambition and inordinate thirst for power…”

Singapore is unique in Asia for the standards demanded of officials – reflected in a year on year improvement in its rating on the Corruption Perceptions Index. But there are always those who will let the side down.

This week, Singaporeans are mortified by the ‘exposure’ of a couple of senior officials.

The head of the Civil Defence Force (fire, ambulance and rescue services) caught in a classic honey trap, has been sacked for consorting with women seeking to influence government contracts. The criminal charge against him is officiously described as “corruptly obtaining sexual gratification from two female vendors and one potential female vendor…on ten occasions”.

The head of the Central Narcotics Bureau, has also been dismissed for “serious personal misconduct.”  Both could face a fine of up to S$100,000 and five years imprisonment if found guilty.

Singapore has tapped into the economic advantage of demanding high standards from its officials. Its reputation for probity in civic affairs has helped make it a darling of investors around the world. Singapore is probably beaten only by Abu Dhabi in the high remuneration given to public servants —a practice they say helps prevent corruption by reducing the incentive to break the law for personal gain.

“Our zero-tolerance approach to corruption in the public and private sectors can only work if Singaporeans continue to be imbued with the right values and recognise that whilst corruption may be a fact of life, it is not our way of life in Singapore,” is the claim of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Civil Service.

Policing a requirement for “…good leadership by example at the top, as well as a population which rejects corruption and does not accept any form of corruption at all…” will reinforce Singapore’s place in the top five countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index.

We should expect no less in New Zealand.   The State Services Commission Statement of Intent has a key integrity measure that over the next five years New Zealand will be in the top five ranked countries on the CPI…. ( the measure previously was to be the top three countries).  In other words, SSC seems to accept that New Zealand agencies need make less effort than those in other jurisdictions.