29 July 2013

The Transparency International Global Corruption Barometer published in early July is unlikely to have much statistical accuracy (for example the “finding” is that 3% of New Zealanders have paid a bribe to the judiciary in the last 12 months) but it may well provide a sound reflection of public perceptions.  Disinterested providers in each of the 107 jurisdictions polled a total of 114,000 participants with a common question set.  The New Zealand data was processed by Colmar Brunton from a survey of over 1000 people.

One matter surveyed was the perception of the most corrupt of ten specified national institutions;  ranging from police to politicians, media to the military, and from judges to religious organisations.

In 51 of the countries included in the Barometer, politicians were considered to be the most corrupt of the institutions surveyed. The rating average was 3.8 out 5 (where 1 means not at all corrupt and 5 means totally corrupt). Religious organisations were seen on average as the least corrupt with a rating of 2.6.

This may well reflect a prejudice that a common motivation in politics is that the end justifies the means, that politicians only stand for those things that will get them elected, and cannot afford to put principles ahead of the possibility of losing. Adlai Stevenson (who unsuccessfully campaigned twice for the US presidency) said the problem with running for office is that it is hard to do so without proving you are unworthy of serving; Bismarck said that politics ruins the character.

The 51 countries where politicians were seen as the most corrupt of national institutions included New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, United States and Canada.

In Canada the media spotlight currently is on an expenses scandal in the Senate.  Four senators who claimed expenses for living in the capital were found not to have their primary residence  in the province they represented as required by the constitution. A parliamentary committee dominated by government members sought to minimise the breaches. Although one senator has repaid $90,000, and two have denied any fault, the RCMP is now conducting a criminal inquiry. The CBC reported that a consequence of the controversy was 49% of Canadians saying they wanted to reform the Senate, 41% wanted to see it abolished, 6% wanted to keep it as it was, and 4% were unsure.