13 June 2014

Ambassadors to the United Nations from dozens of countries are to enjoy an expenses paid week in New Zealand.  The purpose is to promote support for New Zealand’s campaign to serve on the Security Council.  Selection to the Security Council is through the votes of ambassadors, cast by secret ballot.

The ethics of seeking support in this way must be questionable.  A clear implication of this promotion is that ambassadors can be suborned, and that whatever the instructions from their national governments, the ambassadors will exercise a personal preference. Why else would the hospitality be given in this way and not in the form of state visits by government leaders?

Accreditation to the United Nations is a premier appointment in most diplomatic services. The appointees comprise an elite. That an elite group of public servants sees fit to engage in a jaunt of this character seems extraordinary. It could be portrayed as a circumstance that the OECD Convention Against the Bribery of Foreign Officials seeks to combat – New Zealand is providing personal and private benefits to foreign officials so that they exercise their discretion in New Zealand’s favour.  If the visits are sanctioned by the United Nations, there appears to be a very hollow commitment by those who should be exemplars of all that the United Nations Convention Against Corruption requires – and New Zealand’s tardiness in ratifying the Convention more understandable.

A presumption must be that the ambassadors have the consent of their governments to visit New Zealand – that they are in the course of their official duties, to the extent that taking part in top line tourist activities is a duty. But that in itself seems to lack integrity.  Agencies – and their staff – should not accept benefits which create an impression of bias. Decision making must not be influenced by personal interests or advantage. Yet that seems to be the rationale behind New Zealand’s hospitality.