Spying, transparency, trustworthiness and the most Open Governments

11 November 2013

A monumental anniversary.

The aspirations for good government of a number of the 1200 enthusiasts at the London Open Government Summit at the beginning of November include explicit transparency as the process for shining through blinkered policies like those that led to the implosion of European societies in 1914 and the exhaustion by 1918 of their national economies, consequent upon the ‘Great War’

The extent to which countries are seen to meet Open Government standards is somewhat variable – and possibly dependent on the eye of the beholder – as shown by the ratings given in comparable surveys published in conjunction with the Open Government Summit.  The Open Knowledge Foundation published its findings as the first Open Government Index; the Open Data Institute published its research as the first Open Data Barometer.

New Zealand, rated fourth in the Open Government Barometer, shared eighth place with Australia in the Open Government Index.  A constant is that the United Kingdom and the United States were the most highly rated in both surveys.

But these lead states would have been squirming with the Aruna Roy question put to the US Secretary of State at a plenary session: “There’s more transparency in governments, there’s more accountability,” she said. “And at the same time, there are more restrictive laws being passed by all governments today than ever before and there is an attempt at surveillance by my government and your government. Why is this happening?”

John Kerry “… defended the motives of US intelligence agencies, insisting no-one innocent was being abused and that surveillance … had prevented many terrorist plots, but acknowledged that trust needed to be restored and that surveillance had, in some cases, gone too far…”

The distinctions between the surveys are perhaps more in matters measured than the evaluations per se. The top ten of both surveys rank more or less the same countries – the striking differences occur further down the list with Korea, Estonia, Japan, Spain and Israel being part of the top 20 on the Barometer, but  excluded in favour of Moldova, Bulgaria Malta and Portugal on the Index.

The Barometer assessed 77 countries while the Index assessed 70, both including only a minority of Open Government Partnership member states. The Barometer includes a ‘radar’ image of survey findings of the participating countries.  That for New Zealand is somewhat eccentric in pattern suggesting that there is much room for improvement in some of the elements assessed.

The Index asked about the availability and accessibility of information in ten key areas –including government spending, election results,  transport timetables, and pollution levels. The Barometer survey explored the adoption of the Open Government Declaration principles,  including right to information laws, the penetration of OG Declaration in layers of government, whether there was much demand for open data and the extent to which there was training and encouragement of innovation regarding open data.

Open Government Barometer 2013 Open Government Index 2013
United Kingdom 1        1 United Kingdom
United States 2        2 United States
Sweden 3        3 Denmark
New Zealand 4        4 Norway
Norway 5        5 Netherlands
Denmark 5        6 Finland
Australia 7        7 Sweden
Canada 8        8 New Zealand
Germany 9        8 Australia
France 10     10 Canada
Netherlands 10     11 Iceland
Republic of Korea 12     12 Moldova
Iceland 12     13 Bulgaria
Estonia 14     15 Malta
Finland 14     15 Italy
Japan 14     16 France
Spain 17     17 Austria
Austria 18     18 Portugal
Israel 18     19 Slovenia
Italy 20     20 Switzerland
Russia 20





Banking on trustworthiness

15 April 2013

Integrity is expected of bankers.  The experience of the financial crisis is that many have not met expectations.  Britain’s banking regulator has imposed a fit and proper person requirement for some banking functions. There is a suggestion that the regulator may not be modeling the standards it sets for the sector.

It appears that most who sit the test, can meet the standard – they have the competence, financial soundness and integrity required.  Last year 24,319 candidates qualified – four failed.  Which suggests it may not be too much of a challenge.  The regulator will not specify what the standards are but indicated that candidates thought unlikely to pass are encouraged to withdraw.

Critics are not impressed.  An Opposition MP on the Treasury Select Committee is concerned about the United Kingdom’s “…cultural problem that has brought banking to its knees and cost the taxpayers a fortune and these people continue as if it’s business as usual. It’s about time that regulators got real about the problems in banking and I see no signs of that happening…”

The Edelman international survey this year placed bankers near the bottom of its trust barometer of occupations at 49%, only financial services scored less.  The picture is worse in Britain where the Which survey finding is that 71% of respondents believe that there has been no improvement in the general banking culture.  New Zealanders however appear to have substantially more confidence in bankers.  The UMR Mood of the Nation ranking of occupations indicates that 51% have a great deal of trust in Banks, more than the Courts at 47%, and Public Service at 38%.  New Zealanders have the least trust in the Church and Organised religion and by a substantial margin, the highest numbers saying they have only ‘some or very little confidence’ in the Church.

Confidence levels presumably are much worse among Cypriots where despite the Eurozone Deposit Guarantee Scheme protecting deposits up to €100,000, banks in Cyprus will deduct a levy from all deposits. And sums over that may face deductions of up to 40%.

Integrity involves doing what you say you will do, and telling those who depend on your word, when you are not able to do what you say.  That’s why people with integrity can be trusted. The problem with banks was that they said they were competent, reliable, honest  and ethical. But they didn’t tell their customers when they acted differently.

http://umr.co.nz/sites/umr/files/umr_mood_of_the_nation_2013_online_0.pdf  page 28





Trust and trustworthiness – not a matter of give and take

17 December 2012


Baroness O’Neill when in New Zealand two years ago gave the Royal Society Aronui addresses about trust. ‘A question of trust’ was her topic when she delivered the Reith Lectures in 2002. She gave a BBC talk last weekend on ‘Trustworthiness before Trust’ in which she explored the difference between trust and trustworthiness.  Trust of course is something that people extend to others. Those who are trustworthy earn that trust.

Everyone likes to think of themselves as trustworthy.  Baroness O’Neill addressed the question of ‘How can we make it easier to judge trustworthiness?’.  She believes that this is a matter of personal judgement.  We develop trust in people after assessing their competence, honesty and reliability. We may trust people to do some things but not trust them to do something else.

Most of us see through organisational claims to trustworthiness and transparency.  That is why it is the commitment of individuals to values that is always important. Organisational spin is readily forgotten. Where the conduct of senior managers lacks integrity, trust in their organisation will be diminished. Officials who do what they say they will do, and are honest about what they cannot do, will be seen as trustworthy and gain trust.

The State Services Commission promotes the ‘6 trust elements’ as a tool for maintaining trustworthiness. The extent to which these 6 trust elements have been implemented by agencies was assessed in 2007 and in 2010 by the State Services integrity survey. The 6 trust elements are that

  • Agencies have integrity standards
  • Agencies promote those standards –‘talking the talk’
  • The integrity standards are integrated into the agencies operations – ‘the way we do things around here’
  • Managers model the standards –‘walking the talk’
  • Consequences for breaching the standards are known by agency staff
  • Agencies act decisively when breaches occur.




Reducing corruption requires greater trustworthiness axiom

29 May 2012

The Ernst and Young 12th Global Fraud Survey released last week reflects trends in other recent surveys that corruption worldwide is worsening. Despite countries seeking to strengthen their enforcement regimes and their anti-corruption legislation, findings have deteriorated compared with those from previous surveys.

The survey indicates just how different the business community is in many jurisdictions compared with New Zealand.

The global average is that 39% of respondents report that corrupt practices occur frequently in their countries. In rapid-growth markets, corruption is common place, with 84% of Brazilians say it is widespread. In 2011, of 36 enforcement actions under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 31 related to activities in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Many of these prosecutions related to payments to people working in state owned enterprises.

Ernst and Young found that hard times strain ethical standards, with survey respondents saying that they are willing to make illicit payments (15% cf 9% in the previous survey) and misstate financial performance (5% cf 3%) to survive the economic downturn.

While 81% of respondents say codes of conduct are in place and senior managers strongly promote their commitment to them, there is seldom consistent training, only a minority of managers model expected standards, and there is little enthusiasm for enforcing breaches.

The failure to prevent bribery and corruption reflects a mixed commitment to giving effect to the “6 trust elements”, which the OECD has identified as collectively essential if corruption is to be moderated.

These require; setting standards; promoting those standards; integrating those standards into work practices; the modelling of standards by managers, employees knowing the consequences of breaching the standards; and acting decisively when breaches occur.



Supporting trust and trustworthiness

12 August 2011

Transparency International has widespread recognition for the credibility of its research into corruption and its advocacy of processes that support good government.  TI has expanded substantially since its foundation – driven by a New Zealand executive director – and the publication of the first Corruption Perceptions Index in 1996.

Important resources in TI’s research repository are the surveys of national integrity systems which comprehensively analyse  a country’s integrity infrastructure.  These are an evaluation of 13 institutional pillars which support the rule of law, and ensure sustainability and the quality of life.  The pillars represent the checks and balances that protect against the misuse of power.  The existence of powerful, effective, apolitical audit institutions is one of the pillars.  Good government , economic efficiency and a healthy democracy will not be possible otherwise.

The Office of the Auditor General is New Zealand’s principal audit institution. It was rated highly in the New Zealand NIS prepared in 2003. The OAG plays a major role in the promotion of integrity.  Its 2011 Statement of Intent represents the OAG’s outcomes, impacts and outputs in a triangular diagram, with the apex being a “trusted public sector”.     These are achieved if the 4000 agencies in the public sector maintain high standards of trustworthiness.

This week the Auditor General published guidance on the appointment of public sector auditors.  These are the professional contractors engaged to assess and scrutinise the compliance of agencies with their statements of intent and the way public money has been spent.  These audits are broader than the standard commercial undertaking and may examine whether a public sector agency:

  •  fairly reflects results in their annual reports;
  • complies with statutory obligations;
  • operates effectively and efficiently;
  • is being wasteful through any act or omission;
  • shows any sign of a lack of probity by acts of the entity or anyone working for it;
  • shows any sign of financial imprudence through acts of the entity or anyone working for it.

Each is a component of the statutory responsibility that agencies are managed in an efficient, effective and economical way, and that the conduct of their employees reflects the Cabinet Manual obligation to be fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy.




NZ public sector seen again as the World’s least corrupt

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”.





Trust is a question of the heart

11 July 2016

The New York Times may have a liberal bias but an article last week “A more personal Hillary Clinton tries to erase a trust deficit” pulled no punches in listing the leading presidential candidate’s acts and omissions that undermine the electorate’s confidence in her.  Polls suggest that she is considered about 8%  less trustworthy than Donald Trump.   The article concludes with an attribution to one of Mitt Romney’s Republican strategists, that “there are two things that drive us in politics: the head and the heart. Trust is a question of heart.”  An inference is that without regenerating her trustworthiness, Mrs Clinton will struggle in the general election. Even her supporters tell pollsters that they do not trust her.

Mrs Clinton recently acknowledged that she has “made mistakes” and will have to work at getting people to trust her.  This was emphasised when the FBI Director contradicted many of her explanations regarding her email use and said that she had been “extremely careless”.  Moderating what some see as her extreme hubris, she told an audience that “You can’t just talk someone into trusting you. You’ve got to earn it.”  But it still took her months after the email scandal broke before she conceded some fault.

The article reports a campaign adviser indicating that there is no magic set of words that will address the trust deficit head-on. Mrs Clinton cannot bluntly ask voters to trust her and wash away the past. “She will quell doubts once she has the job”… with her performance, and how hard she works for the people she represents.

Part of the trust problem is that voters are much more inclined to believe the bad things they hear about a political figure than the good things. Nearly twice as many polled voters when comparing Mrs Clinton with Mr Trump felt that Mrs Clinton said what she thought people wanted to hear most of the time, rather than what she believed.  “It’s more like she’s saying things because they’re politically correct or because they further her agenda, rather than because it’s coming from the heart,” one said. She may only capture the hearts of a majority of the electorate, their trust and their votes, if those voters can trust that she speaks from the heart.










Is there an erosion of public sector integrity?

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.






“We have totally screwed up” – the people’s car is not all that it seems

22 September 2015

Michael Horn the chief executive of VW in the United States will not have enjoyed “eating crow” last night when admitting that “Our company was dishonest with… all of you… we have totally screwed up.”  The admission that VW engineered its diesel motors to deceive emission testing regimes is extraordinary in its enormity.

VW promotes itself as a leader in corporate responsibility. Deceiving a regulator in this way blatantly conflicts with three of VW’s ethics principles – although perhaps the admission conforms to the fourth:

  •   we act responsibly, for the benefit of our customers, shareholders, and employees;
  •   we consider compliance with international conventions, laws, and internal rules to be the basis for sustainable            and successful economic activities;
  •   we act in accordance with our declarations; and
  •   we accept responsibility for our actions.

VW specifies that its Code of Conduct provides “a guidepost that supports employees… in mastering the legal and ethical challenges… in their daily work. The Code of Conduct constitutes a Group-wide guideline that applies to all of our employees and members of executive bodies and for the compliance with which each individual is equally responsible.”

Manipulating US exhaust controls with technology that falsifies emissions data suggests the code is an enormous hypocrisy.  Thousands of VW employees must be familiar with the device, its design, purpose, manufacture, installation, and maintenance. If the code provided a guidepost for mastering ethical challenges, it cannot have shown the way for those employees. The company must have been selective in the ethical behaviour expected of them.

This disclosure doesn’t reflect the VW values of –

  • closeness to the customer
  • superior performance
  • value creation
  • renewability
  • respect
  • responsibility
  • sustainability

If VW operated in this way, there must be a possibility that other makers did likewise.  Competitors would have become aware of systems needed to replicate VW results and maintain market share. There will have been movement around the sector of those “in the know”.

VW produces about 13% of new cars.  It is Europe’s largest car manufacturer, making about 25% of the Continent’s cars. Its 2014 profits exceeded 10 billion euros. Those profits are likely to be dramatically reduced as the emissions scandal plays out.  A prosecution in the United States is reported to expose VW to a potential fine exceeding US$18 billion!

As so often happens when prominent personalities are caught cheating there is a public moment of apparent regret.  Then recognising that their trustworthiness is evaporating, the promise to change.  VW we were told is “… committed to do what must be done and to begin to restore your trust.”

Mr Horn must be wondering – as did the writer of the Gospel of Mark  “For what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”


British Government commits to restoring trust and faith in politics

13 May 2015

The British Prime Minister has pledged to restore trust and faith in politics.

When the new Cabinet met yesterday for the first time, David Cameron used the presence of the media to confirm assurances given during the election campaign.  He was emphatic that the Government had a mandate to deliver on the Conservative manifesto – “all of it”.   Having surprised all the pundits – and exceeded his own expectations – the election of a House of Commons with a Conservative party majority should enable the Government to operate without the compromises of a coalition.

The Prime Minister said  “..This will be a different government. It is not a coalition government, so we have proper accountability. There’s no trading away of things that are in here. The ability to deliver this, that is one of the most important things we can do to restore trust and faith in politics, when you vote for something you get it and that is what we are going to do.”

“Before we start I want everyone around this table to be absolutely clear what we are here to do and who we are here to do it for. I think it is absolutely vital that in every decision that we take, in every policy we pursue, every programme we start, it is about giving everyone in our country the best chance of living a fulfilling and good life and making the most of their talents. That is what this government is going to be about”

What the Prime Minister believes to be necessary may not match the expectations of the public.  One of the last pieces of legislation to come into force before the election created the Register of Consultant Lobbyists, the need for which became clear in the lobbying taking place during the election campaign – and earlier in the year with the latest media exposure of senior politicians seeking to sell their influence– this time involving  Rifkind and Straw – both Right Honourable Members.

Before the previous election David Cameron’s promise had been to remedy the “…far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money…”. Few consider that his solution – the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act – will ensure trustworthiness in politics. During its parliamentary passage,  the Bill gave rise to extensive lobbying to protect interests!  The resulting register does not impose effective controls on the activities of lobbyists and may give rise to a false sense of transparency. The public will be no wiser about who is lobbying who, what the lobbying is about or how much is being spent to engage political support.

Perhaps the inadequacies in the legislation reflected the need to maintain a coalition.

The Prime Minister seems confident that he will be able to deliver on promises this time around.  This includes extending the right to buy Housing Trust properties – despite them not being government owned, cutting inheritance tax, raising the personal income threshold so no-one on the minimum wage pays tax, increasing the higher tax  threshold, doubling  free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, increasing health spending by £8 billion a year, giving civil servants and local government officers 3 days paid leave each year for volunteering and so on.