17 October 2013

In its annual report published this week, the State Services Commission indicates a changing emphasis in its integrity oversight.

The Commissioner’s requirement that the chief executives of Public Service Departments, Independent Crown Entities,  Autonomous Crown Entities and Crown Agents disclose their gifts, hospitality and expenses on a six monthly cycle is to stretch to an annual report.

This reduction in frequency of disclosure – and arguably the public confidence engendered by avoiding delay in the availability of information – is contrary to moves in other comparable jurisdictions.  For example, the UK Civil Service which has a more demanding disclosure obligation on its Departmental heads, and imposed also on other senior officials, requires data to be published each quarter.

The annual report confirms the information posted on the SSC website in August that it will use a new survey to determine State Servants’ perceptions of integrity in their workplaces. The previous surveys (2007 and 2010) used the Ethics Resource Center question-set on which the United States National Business Ethics Surveys are based. The surveys measured penetration of the “6 Trust Elements” necessary for organisational integrity.  Q&As on the website indicate that the 2013 survey will again measure elements relating to those Trust Elements. However there is no indication whether the replacement survey questions will facilitate meaningful comparisons with other jurisdictions.  As SSC gives prominence to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index as a trustworthiness measure because of its universal catchment, comparing standards is clearly important to it.  The 2013 responses will build on the data base gathered from previous surveys, and can be anticipated providing enriched assessments specific to the State Services.

With campaigning for a general election beginning within a year, SSC has flagged its advisory role, although interestingly referring only to public servants. That may mean that the guidance for State Servants – those to whom the code of conduct applies – as prepared prior to the last two general elections, may target a narrower readership next year.

An observation in the Performance Improvement Framework assessment of the SSC was that “…It is therefore important that SSC works to strengthen the awareness of integrity issues and maintains pro-active engagement with all agencies to reinforce their importance…”  Confusingly, rather than planning an assertive promotion of integrity across the sector, the suggestion in the annual report is of an inward perspective (to the extent that the following sentence has any discernible meaning).

“… In 2013/14 a key focus is sharpening integrity information to inform all of SSC’s work and supplement other information sources, and increasing the integrity focus in all of SSC’s work-in particular SSC’s work in aiding the development of high levels of system performance…”

Get it?