20 September 2012

It seems appropriate when considering public sector integrity to lump the “old” Commonwealth together – to equate ethical standards in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – and to assume that British standards of propriety are shared.  There is even a propensity to question the standards of countries that for periods have chosen to opt out of the traditional Commonwealth consensus – places like Pakistan, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Fiji.

What the 2012 Worldwide Governance Indicators show is a difference that exists in the governance standards even among the “old” Commonwealth.

Of that group, New Zealand rates best on all six indicators. Australia is ranked “next” on four standards with Canada following. On the two indicators where Canada is in second place, Australia is third. The United Kingdom ranks behind New Zealand, Australia and Canada on all six indicators.

If the commitment to integrity and democracy is common, should there be any substantial difference in compliance with governance standards?  Although  the United Kingdom and Australia are rated in the 90th percentile ( top 20 countries ) along with New Zealand and Canada for five of the indicators, they are both rated in the 2012 report only in the 50 -75th percentile on the indicator relating to Political Stability and Absence of Violence.

Australia trails New Zealand to a statistically significant degree. Australia is in the top ten places only for Regulatory Quality (7th)  Rule of Law (8th) and  Controlling Corruption (8th).  The reluctance of South Australian parliamentarians to come to agreement on the framework for a setting up a Corruption Commission – in the same way the Victoria took years to decide –  may be indicative attitudes generally. Neither Canada nor the United Kingdom make the “top ten”.

Could the answer be a matter of size?  No large countries are assessed by Transparency International as being among the least corrupt public sectors.  The least corrupt all have fewer than 10 million people – Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden, Norway etc.

Big countries like the United States, India, China and Russia may have some basis for claiming that there is a statistical prejudice in favour of small countries.   However if that were the case, why do the microstates of the Pacific – where there are strong religious and ethical traditions – score so badly on the WGI?