25 February 2013

Bryce Edwards’ media review of the political scene on Friday identified how the term “corrupt” though not traditional in New Zealand politics, is now being thrown around by politicians, commentators and editorials. He included a series of quotes by informed commentators that the Government is ignoring rules that protect against the risk of corruption and inappropriate influence; that the Government climbed into Sky City’s pocket in plain sight, and openly waved a white hanky at us from within it; that there is cronyism.

A reason why New Zealand public administration is perceived to be largely free of corruption is because of the media’s ability to comment on suspected conflicts of interest and self interest by those tasked with protecting the public interest, and the independence of enforcement agencies to act where unlawful conduct can be established – the transparency of the checks and balances. Edwards’ article reflects the concern of some, that the Auditor General’s enquiry into the tendering process for a convention centre in Auckland lacked the robustness expected of the champion of checks and balances. The government’s commitment to the rule of law was explored further in a Dominion Post feature today.

The National Integrity System review currently underway by the New Zealand chapter of Transparency International assesses the strength of integrity institutions – the Office of the Auditor General is a major pillar in that integrity framework. Bryce Edwards is assisting in one aspect of the NIS assessment.

Five years ago TINZ and TI Australia supported the preparation of National Integrity System reports for the Pacific Forum countries. The findings were generally disheartening.

Last week Transparency Vanuatu released a statement about the absence of progress in strengthening principles of good government. The National Council of Chiefs has called for weeding out an “avalanche of corruption”. The criticism talks of perpetual indifference to the cancer of corruption. Transparency Vanuatu feels nothing has been done by anyone in authority about any of the burning issues it has raised in the 12 years that it has been operating; “ …something corrupt occurs, the incident is reported in the media, there is an outburst of indignation by journalists and the public in letters to the editor, there is silence and inaction from the Government, and the matter gradually fades into the background…”

The statement highlighted recent media reports, including
• 74 new scholarships being recalled due to abuse of the selection process by the National Education Commission, with awards to family members
• the Prime Minister’s office attempting to remove licences from an independent newspaper and a radio station
• continuing reports about the Phocea, a vessel with false documents apparently owned by ministers, which unloaded cargo secretly, and though the Police Commissioner has said that there is nothing wrong, the investigating police officers were been removed
• the “outrageous” decision by the Minister of Lands to lease customary land although the customary owners who the Minister must consult, have announced they wish to keep the land
• the Police Commissioner’s car being written off by a drunk, unnamed officer – without consequences
• numerous sales of public land to officials despite Ministers deciding in 2010 to stop such sales
• leasing the government interisland vessel in breach of policy and procedures
• appointing the Minister of Agriculture’s brother as human resource manager at the Agricultural college
• setting up a private immigration service by the family of the Director General of Immigration, to which foreigners must make applications
• a roving ambassador being accused of forging a vehicle transfer
• unexplained suspensions of departmental directors

A strong national integrity system has a breadth of mutually supporting agencies and practices which should minimise the likelihood of this type of corruption.