4 December 2013

The credibility of the New Zealand assessment in the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index has been challenged in some quarters. The reasoning is that if there are well published instances of corruption then the least corrupt public sector rating must surely be misplaced.  Hasn’t the Minister for Sport announced a programme starting next year to counter corruption in competitive sport; didn’t the Chair of the Remuneration Authority rationalise increasing salaries for public sector chief executives as a means of minimising corruption; hasn’t the High Court directed that an MP – a former Minister and former Auckland mayor –  stand trial for a false election expenses declaration?  What credibility can there be in the Transparency International findings?

Some criticisms seem based on a naive belief that CPI material is gathered by officials with an interest in patch protection, and that there has been no serious attempt to uncover the layer of corruption just waiting discovery.

The CPI relates to public sector corruption.  Many published incidents are not relevant to the Index; they don’t relate to the actions of agencies or their staff.  In other cases it is the taking of remedial action that has created public awareness.  And some examples are just nonsense, as with the “finding” in a corruption barometer survey earlier this year,  that 3% of New Zealanders had paid a bribe to a judge, and 20% felt the courts were corrupt.  Yesterday on Pundit, Andrew Geddis commented that the John Banks case, where the Crown took over the court application to initiate proceedings against him, and the High Court showed no reluctance to order a criminal trial,  shows that New Zealand is a country where “…the rule of law works.”

The latest CPI is the first time when TI has recommended comparing ratings with the previous year.  Until now that sort of comparison would mislead about trends. This year for example, the improved scoring of 9.1 for New Zealand (and Denmark) is a qualitative improvement on the 9.0 score in 2012.

The international assessors consider that standards of the New Zealand public sector in 2013 had improved.  Australia and Iceland are examples of highly regarded countries but where the score is declining.  This is reflected perhaps in the recent announcement of a special programme to counter corrupt practices believed to occur regularly within the Australian Customs Service.

When comparing standards in other countries, New Zealand’s officials were the least corrupt. It is not that there is no corruption, just that there is less than elsewhere.