6 August 2012

The Olympic games have captured media attention during the last ten  days –which means that there have been fewer reports than usual of public administration issues that make for integrity talking points – although a number of incidents  have been reported which illustrate the conflict between competing to win and playing fairly.

With media attention in London on the games venues and not on Westminster – and of course Parliament is in recess until early September-  the temptation facing political managers, no doubt, is to decide whether now is the time for the disclosure of sensitive issues which would be convenient, if they slipped below the radar. If released would public attention remain focused elsewhere? That may well be why Prime Minister David Cameron has indicated that the much discussed reform of the House of Lords will be put on ice – although that is unlikely to go down well with his coalition partner who regards Lords reform as a much more important priority.

Which is a reminder of how often there is insufficient “oxygen” to inflame concerns into burning issues unless they are championed by government or the media.  Opposition parties and civil society groups have limited capacity to capture public attention with matters of public interest unless broadcasted by TV and the newspapers. (Advocates of social media may argue otherwise.)

An example is the obligation of governments to have codes of conduct for their public sectors to minimise corruption and misuse of power.  How often is there any reference to the United Nations code for public officials, to which UN member states have had an obligation to give effect since 1996?  Member states of the UN Convention against Corruption have additional duties. There are comparable obligations in the APEC code for public officials and the OECD has a further layer of integrity obligations in areas ranging from procurement to lobbying. Occasional references in the New Zealand media to departmental standards never refer to these expectations that flow from being part of the international community.  However, no other jurisdiction seems any more compliant.

..and to stretch the analogy,  codes of conduct will never be the nuclear option for promoting integrity in government – today is the anniversary of the dropping of “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in 1945