25 January 2017
Transparency International has published its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016.
New Zealand which had been shunted aside from the top perch that it had occupied from 2005 -2014 has regained crowing rights. It is the only country rated in the top 15 places of the CPI that improved its score in 2016. Most among the leaders were unchanged, although Norway dropped two points and the Netherlands dropped four points. New Zealand, scoring two more points than last year, moved back into equal first ranking with Denmark (which dropped one point). Australia remains in 13th place. The majority of the 178 countries with public sectors included in the 2016 CPI were rated more poorly than in 2015. The perception is that in most countries if there is a focus on government integrity, it is insufficient to counter declining standards.
There is no obvious explanation for New Zealand going against the trend. It could be as simple as a misreading of public sector standards in 2015 – or perhaps this time! A willingness for Government to work with Transparency International on implementing recommendations in the 2013 National Integrity Systems Report for New Zealand may have influenced perceptions. The Office of the Auditor-General has continued its emphasis on Trusted State Services. There have been other influences and counterbalances – the appointees to Chief Ombudsman and the Head of the State Services appear to be demanding higher standards from agencies while at the same time some senior officials in transport agencies in local government and nationally, have been the subject of Serious Fraud Office proceedings. The Better Public Services Goals have persisted, although the Performance Improvement Framework for agencies seems to have a diminishing priority. What is evident is the strengthening of civil society institutions. Examples are how the New Zealand chapter of Transparency International (TINZ), the Open Government Partnership Stakeholder Group, and the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (VUW) have matured, consolidated, and membership enthusiasm has morphed into expertise. TINZ, for instance, is unlikely now to release a report as it did in 2013 indicating that 44% of New Zealanders thought government actions against corruption were ineffective – and one hopes would no longer give credibility as it then did to an extrapolation from a survey that 3% of the population had paid bribes equally to Police, Judges, the education system, for medical services and for registry and permit services. It seems highly improbable that 3% of New Zealanders have had contact with a judge let alone sought out a judge to pay them a bribe. As the probability of 3% of the population bribing medical professionals is equally incredible, there must be doubt about the other “ findings” published at that time. In a marked contrast, the United States chapter of Transparency International this week was dis-accredited by the parent body.
For an integrity geek, today’s CPI results are a heartening confirmation that the public sector is not destined to sink under the weight of self-interest. With few exceptions, State servants have a deeply rooted commitment to trustworthiness. That hasn’t changed. There are ebbs and flows in the focus placed on integrity. The mantra of being fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy summarising the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services is seldom heard these days and less frequently featured in print. Perhaps the CPI results reflect an imbued goodness and spirit of service.
And that may contribute to New Zealand rating 4th in the Democracy Index published today by the Economist Intelligence Unit – trailing Norway, Iceland and Sweden among the 19 “Full Democracies”. Australia is 10th, UK 16th and the United States is now in 21st place having fallen among the “Flawed Democracies” even before the epiphany of “alternative facts”.