13 October 2013

Last week Transparency International published its latest research into the extent to which OECD member states are fulfilling obligations under the Anti Bribery Convention. New Zealand’s position has unchanged since the last report, being listed again as one of the states taking “Little or No Enforcement” action in respect of the bribery of foreign officials, and doing little to raise awareness of anti bribery legislation among companies operating in overseas markets. Unsurprisingly, the observations are similar to the 2009 OECD review of New Zealand’s compliance with the Convention.

A Transparency International NZ media release suggests that the incidence of corrupting payments is greater than acknowledged although two recent Serious Fraud Office investigations were illustrative of appropriate action.

However TINZ views on the frequency of bribe paying appear to be shaped by questionable survey responses. The TI Global Corruption Barometer 2013 suggested that 3% of New Zealanders are paying bribes to a range of agencies including for Police, education and judicial services. The only credible explanation for these responses is that migrants, unaware of application and filing fees for public services set by regulation, believe such payments are gathered by officials as a personal benefit.

Were the concerns based on a belief that officials were insufficiently independent – creating the potential for conflicts of interest – or a lack of transparency in some aspects of agency activities, greater credence could be given to the Corruption Barometer.  That 3% of people interacting with New Zealand courts have paid a bribe is so unlikely,  that the other survey responses must also be suspect.

It is most improbable that circumstances would arise in New Zealand similar to those reported this week from Indonesia where the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court has been arrested on corruption charges. In a sting, Corruption Commission officers seized three luxury cars and cash, the equivalent of NZ$220,000, allegedly paid to facilitate an election outcome.