15 December 2015

Bryce Edwards column today – The struggle for integrity – is a worthy compilation of media and blog items highlighting some of this year’s challenges to good government in New Zealand.  They reflect amazement at the Ombudsman’s inquiry conclusion that agencies are generally responsive to Official Information Act requirements, alarm at perceived politicisation of agency governance, concern at minimalist commitments to open government and almost exasperation at an apparent ambivalence about some forms of corruption. Collectively these suggest borer may be eating into the foundations of our public sector, diminishing what has to date been internationally recognised for its comprehensive strength and resilience. The integrity of the system may be threatened.  The range of issues comprising that threat illustrates the real meaning of integrity – it is not simply probity and rectitude.  Integrity is necessary for trustworthiness. That comes only from wholeness, coherence, completeness  and high-mindedness in all things.

And that is the meaning of integrity in the State Sector Act.  Integrity is not a mere standard. As the State Services Commissioner explains in the Introduction to Understanding the Code of Conduct; “The standards set by the code of conduct relate to matters of integrity and conduct. Integrity is the inclusive and all-embracing description of these ethical requirements. The headings under which the standards have been grouped – Fair, Impartial, Responsible and Trustworthy – are indicative of integrity. Integrity itself is pervasive and implicit in all the standards.

Many organisations have values statements or express their service commitment in terms of principles and values. Obligations in the code of conduct to be Fair, Impartial, Responsible and Trustworthy should not detract from using these other arrangements also, to promote integrity.”

Do the links in the Edwards article really point to a discernible deterioration? Is there a weakening in the transparency and integrity that glues respect for the rule of law, support for the democratic process and the spirit of service?

Perhaps the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index will substantiate any change. For many years the CPI has been published on the UN Anti Corruption Day – 9 December.  That was not the case this year – and there is no easily found explanation for a delay in releasing the CPI, apparently until late January 2016.

The President of the New Zealand chapter of Transparency  International in a recent radio interview raised the possibility of New Zealand slipping from its current 2nd place ranking  – on the coat tails of Denmark. New Zealand was last ranked 3rd in 2003 along with Denmark.  That year Finland was perceived to have the least corrupt public administration with Iceland in second place.

Integrity is a state of mind; it is not a set of rules.