8 October 2014

When business gets underway later this month in the 51st Parliament, bills returning to the Order Paper are likely to include the Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Legislation Bill. This is the measure introduced mid year to effect the statutory changes necessary for New Zealand to meet obligations of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Some interest groups – most notably Transparency International – have persistently advocated that the New Zealand Government should demonstrate a commitment to UNCAC.  This presumably has been for some sort of solidarity reason, as the vast majority of member states seem unmotivated by their UNCAC obligations.  New Zealand is ensuring it has the legislative framework to give effect to those obligations – although as an original signatory, it has taken 11 years to do so.

In the face of United States diplomacy, New Zealand and several other integrity-strong states held out from UNCAC until they could ensure appropriate domestic structures. But the pressure to gather up all jurisdictions is illustrated by the sweep around the least developed nations over the last 18 months, with countries like Myanmar, Sudan, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Swaziland, Solomon Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati, Oman and Palestine becoming members. Nauru and the Cook Islands were already members! And gradually the signatories taking a more deliberate approach to UNCAC, have enacted regulatory provisions. With Germany announcing in September that it will ratify UNCAC, the only early signatories yet to ratify are Japan, Barbados, Bhutan, New Zealand – and Syria!

The parallel OECD Convention on Combating the Bribery of Foreign Public Officials (the Anti Bribery Convention) has a more apparent influence on New Zealand’s integrity structures, although Working Group reviews criticise New Zealand for not identifying, and prosecuting, its nationals who offend against the convention. The State Services Commissioner’s Understanding the code of conduct – Guidance for the State Servants  explains that the standard “We must act lawfully and objectively” requires compliance with both New Zealand law and any relevant international conventions.  It species that “…those of us working internationally must be aware in particular of the obligation to support the New Zealand commitment to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and report to the appropriate authority any incidents involving the bribery of officials…”

The annual assessment of measures being taken by OECD members to combat bribery should be released next week. The likelihood is that New Zealand will again be listed among the reticent enforcers.