New Zealand compares well within OECD on Sustainable Governance Indicators

12 November 2018

The 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I has stimulated a profusion of TV programmes utilising contemporary film, dramatically enhanced and converted to colour. Much of it has a focus on military scenes but re-worked film of related geopolitical influences also features.

Political aspirations in 1913 -14 seem to have made a collision between the imperial alliances unavoidable. Empires however depend on their bureaucracies. Bureaucrats at that time were presumably as dedicated in serving their government and improving the well-being of their communities as they are now. What then should officials have done to redirect national endeavours away from war, which few now would regard as having been in the best interests of any of the participating countries.  The war to end all wars has not avoided recurring conflicts, despite – or perhaps because of, the codes and values of public services in the protagonist states.

Is there something in the integrity obligation of public servants working collectively, which should ensure that national leaders are not making decisions where armed conflict is an option?  Should the duty of public servants include protecting their communities from even a “just war”?

An unsurprising commonality of the Bertelsmann Stiftung 2018 Sustainable Governance Indicators (published in October) is that the top ranking countries are also the countries noted for above average rankings in the Global Peace Index (New Zealand was ranked 2nd most peaceful in the 2018 index) and in other characteristics valued in democratic societies. The SGI evaluates  EU and OECD countries on 32 metrics, grouped about the Quality of Democracy, Governance, and Policy Effectiveness – which also aggregate into an overall  SGI score.

The report indicates that the Nordic states, Switzerland and Germany are the most successful countries with regard to sustainable policy outcomes. The northern Europeans also score highest on the Governance Indicators. New Zealand gets a special mention about its system of government described as having a “high strategic capacity and long-term orientation”.

The main concern arising this year from the data is the declining standards of democracy in more than half of the States surveyed,  the polarising of communities, and in particular, growing constraints on the freedom of the press.

The New Zealand section of the report is a 52 page overview, updating the previous year’s data.SGI.    Social Policy rates well but New Zealand is in midfield regarding Economic and Environmental Policy effectiveness. The table below compares the rankings of New Zealand and Australia for the three main functions

Australia New Zealand
Quality of Democracy 14th       7th
Governance 10th       5th
Policy Effectiveness 13th     26th

p 177

Openness is essential to an atmosphere of trust

9 November 2018

Seven weeks ago the Minister of State Services announced that the Government would be proactively releasing Briefing Papers for Cabinet and Cabinet Committees.  We are now seven weeks away from implementation. Cabinet Papers lodged from 1 January 2019 must be published by the related agency on its website within 30 business days of Cabinet making a final decision on the paper’s recommendations.

The Government states that it is committed to improving practices around the proactive release of information. This will promote good government and transparency and foster public trust and confidence in agencies. The motivation is that democracies thrive when citizens trust and participate in their government.

Proactive release includes publishing a wide variety of official information, without any request from the public and publishing the same or edited information that has previously been released to an individual requester under the Official Information Act.

There is a caveat of course. The responsible Minister will be required to assess whether there are good reasons to withhold any of the information. Only Appointments and Honours papers will be automatically excluded from publication.

Cabinet Circular CO (18) 4 sets out relevant procedures. Papers going to Cabinet will have a Proactive Release section, which states whether or not the Minister proposes to release the material within 30 days of decisions being made by Cabinet. If a Cabinet paper is not intended to be proactively released, then the reason why must be explained.

Despite a series of very public hiccoughs during their first year in power, current Ministers appear to be philosophically attuned to strengthening the characteristics of good government.  The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCISE) pilot Index this year, which measured eight core functions and four core attributes of 31 developed jurisdictions to determine their effectiveness, treats Openness as an essential attribute. The United Kingdom was rated best for Openness, followed by New Zealand and then Norway, Denmark and Finland. A proactive release of Cabinet Papers must improve that standing.

The Index validates promoting Openness as a pathway to gaining the trust of citizens. The data sources used to determine Openness are:

  • the World Justice Project Open Government Index – OGI
  • the UN E-participation Index – EPI
  • Bertelsmann Sustainable Governance Indicators – SGI
  • The Worldwide Web Foundation
  • Open Data Barometer – ODB
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Open Data Index – GODI
  • The OECD OURdata Index

Whereas the UK scores more highly for government data availability, accessibility, and government data impact, New Zealand is top for publishing laws and the right to information.

The influence of Openness on integrity-rich government is illustrated impressively by the five top-rated countries for Openness also featuring among the top 10 economies in the TI Corruption Perception Index.

Quality – not an act but a habit

8 November 2018

Today has been World Quality Day – not one of the United Nations sanctioned days of note, but a promotion of Quality as an organisational value. The focus this year is on Trust – and hence its blog worthiness. The marketing message has it as an opportunity to recognise the role that everyone in an organisation plays in building and maintaining trust with stakeholders.

Perhaps, inimitably, Japan initiated a Quality Month in November 1960. China got the vibe and in 1978 decided that September should be World Quality Month. By 1988 the United States and Canada decided that October was a better month for Quality. In 1990 the United Nations standardised arrangements linking Quality to national prosperity. World Quality Day become the second Thursday in November and has growing traction internationally. It found expression this year in some New Zealand public sector agencies.

This year’s Quality message comes wrapped in trustworthiness: that reputations are built on trust. Trust is a hard-earned commodity, yet one which can be squandered in a moment. There is no shortage of media reporting on quality failure and the impact on the customers and stakeholders of organisations: Grenfell, Facebook, Kobe Steel and BMW to name a few. And there are recent New Zealand examples – corporate and others that are closer to the experiences of State servants. They raise issues about organisational competence and about organisational integrity.

They illustrate why organisations need competent systems to ensure that their activities consistently deliver on promises made to customers and stakeholders; that they have an assurance framework to help understand operational risk, and an improvement framework to mitigate it and improve. Factors which captured the attention of the reviewers from the Reserve Bank and Financial Markets Authority looking into the New Zealand banking sector.

Trust and reputation are built on systems of governance, assurance and improvement, but need a culture of quality.

And culture means people and their drive to serve.

It prioritises people and engaging with them, not the pursuit awards and launching of media statements. It involves engineering diverse teams at all levels of organisations and fueling enthusiasm to generate small projects tackling real problems. It recognises the time it takes to make a difference, the need to be staunchly innovative, to trial change, measure it and try to do better. And it means making the most of existing technology before looking for answers in tomorrow’s toys.

Inaugural Public Service Day 106 years after legislating for public servants

7 November 2018

The Public Service Act passed on 7 November 1912 established the New Zealand Public Service. The Public Service comprises Government Departments listed in Sch 1 to the State Sector Act, which distinguishes them from the agencies which evolved from the Railways Department and the Post and Telegraph Department.

The anniversary of the enactment is to be commemorated each year with a Public Service Day. The occasion will be marked with presentations of The New Zealand Public Service Medal.  A Royal Warrant of July 2018, authorises “our Minister of State Services” to confer the medal for meritorious service by employees in the New Zealand Public Service (the power may be delegated to the State Service Commissioner.)

That wording is interesting.  It cannot be intended that the medal is awarded to Public Service chief executives. Those office holders are not employees. Similarly it cannot be intended to encompass employees in the wider State Services – covering inter alia, Parliamentary Departments, Non Public Services Departments, Reserve Bank, Tertiary Education Institutions, Crown Entities (including DHBs) and their subsidiaries and State-Owned Enterprises, although the predecessor agencies of many were part of the Public Service recognised by the 1912 Act.

The Public Service Act saw the end of the Civil Service which had supported  representative government from the meeting of the first New Zealand Parliament in 1854 (and which took over Colonial Office appointees who had been serving the Governor since separation from the New South Wales administration in 1841.)

This metamorphosis from Civil Service to Public Service which took effect from 1 April 1913 means that although New Zealand has one of the world’s oldest continuous Parliaments, the Public Service is less long standing.  (Canada established its Public Service in 1867, and Australia the year after New Zealand in 1913).

Canada has a Public Service Week ( set up by a two section Act ) and an Exemplary Service Medal created in 2004. Australia has a Public Service Medal but no commemorative Public Service Day.

The State Services Commissioner conferred six medals (two being posthumous) at a weekend event.

Interestingly both Dominica and Tonga also had an inaugural Public Service Day during 2018.  Both marked the day in June coinciding with the United Nations Public Services Day.

Can you bank on that?

5 November 2018

The New Zealand banking sector appears able to sigh with relief  – or at least draw a deep breath and wait for media attention to move on. The players have been told that a core area of their professional expertise – the governance of management risk – requires serious attention, and that they must markedly improve how they identify and manage unethical behaviour.  None of which is a surprise as polls rating the trustworthiness of bankers score them poorly, among taxi drivers, clergy and lawyers. But the Reserve Bank / Financial Markets Authority report published today, after more than 4000 hours of inquiry, struggles to rationalise the Government’s angst at the profits Australian banks have earned in New Zealand.

It has not uncovered the malfeasance and scale of self-interest being conceded ahead of the Australian Royal Commission into Banking etc Services reporting its findings.  The major players are the same in both markets but something in New Zealand seems to moderate exploitative practices hitherto viewed as acceptable by the leaders in these banks – in a sector once considered the epitome of trustworthiness. The most pejorative observation about the findings seems to be that it is “disgraceful” that only half of the banks had adopted FMA conduct and risk framework guidelines issued 21 months ago.

Business depends on bankers. It seems axiomatic that efficient and effective business depends on good bankers. And presumably, the ease of doing business is shaped by supportive banking services.

Last week the World Bank released its annual Ease of Doing Business survey results. Of the 120 economies assessed, New Zealand, overall, is the place where it is easiest to do business, ahead of Singapore and Denmark. New Zealand has always rated in the top decile in this survey. What is notable about the characteristics evaluated is that business acumen does not dominate. Many determinants are governance skills – the functionality of State servants who develop, implement and improve a regulatory climate sympathetic to business. But there is also an interface with banking capacity, with Getting Credit, Trading Across Borders, Resolving Insolvency. New Zealand is the easiest place for a business to get credit! And a number of the relevant factors are incorporated in the measures gathered by the World Justice Project to compile the Rule of Law Index – in which New Zealand again this year was placed 7th of the 113 surveyed jurisdictions.

The longer this post gets, the more it echoes past entries. There are no fireworks, despite the date.


Today marks 150 years of New Zealanders keeping in time

2 November 2018

“Gliding-on” dramatised folklore about New Zealand’s public servants for television;  cardigan-clad gossipers, who when not gathered around a tea trolley, were clock watching for a 4.35pm end to the day. And tens of thousands of government employees throughout the country clocked off at the same moment.

New Zealand led the world in adopting a national time. New Zealand Standard Time, 11 hours and 30 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, came into force at noon on 2 November 1868. Despite GMT originating in England, Britain did not standardise its time until August 1880.

There had been a battle of the clocks in New Zealand throughout the 1860s. Although Auckland shared “Wellington time”, local mean time varied, illustrated with 34 minutes difference between Napier and Invercargill. Provincial Governments, keen to preserve symbols of their autonomy, obstructed standardisation. There was no overriding need for a common time while communication was primarily by sea.

This changed in 1866 when a Cook Strait cable connected the North and South Island telegraph networks. The influence of the Postmaster-General further shaped developments when he directed all post offices to adhere to “Wellington time” from January 1867. What then became known as “telegraph time” – and the time on post office clocks in all town centres – increasingly undermined parochialism despite what some saw as tyrannical caprice in Wellington.  Resistance was particularly strong in Dunedin.

“At noon on Monday 2 November 1868, all well-regulated clocks in the North and South Island that were either connected by the telegraph to Wellington, or regulated by a telegraph office clock, struck 12 at the same moment Wellington’s town clock did. Although this was not recognised at the time, this was a significant moment of union for a fledgling and divided colony.” (There were 10,000 imperial troops on active service at the time in New Zealand.)

It was 78 years later, on 1 January 1946, when New Zealand Standard Time was set 12 hours ahead of GMT, or 180° east of Greenwich. This meridian lies closer to the Chatham Islands than the North and South Islands but the change (from the meridian set in 1868 of 172˚30΄ E just to the west of Christchurch)  simplified the relationship between NZST and GMT. However, it means that dawn arrives late in midwinter, especially in south-western parts of the country.

International agreement to base time on a prime meridian through Greenwich occurred in 1884.—1985/series

US President trumpets need for NZ-type control on birth tourism

1  November 2018

Concern about the impact on the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement of granting residence to asylum seekers detained on Nauru is rooted in the privileges of New Zealand citizenship. Ministers in Australia speak of precluding entry in perpetuity. That could mean that some refugees ultimately qualify for a restricted type of citizenship. Their situation may be analogous to the visa requirements imposed on New Zealanders with convictions; having been a refugee refused residence in Australia may become a character constraint on the grant of a visa to enter Australia. (But would such a restriction trouble people desperate for a “normal” life?)

A fundamental change in the prerequisite for acquiring citizenship a dozen years ago doesn’t seem to have troubled many New Zealanders. What used to be a jus soli – of automatic citizenship if born in New Zealand – was surrendered with general acceptance to prevent birth tourism – the backdoor access to citizenship by pregnant foreign tourists conveniently being in the country when their child was born. Birth in New Zealand now conveys citizenship only if a parent is lawfully resident here (if neither is a citizen.)

In a much more public way,  in the run-up to the midterm elections next week, President Trump has declared an intention to override by Executive Decree the 14th Amendment right to citizenship of any child born in the United States.  This citizenship by birth, guaranteed by the Constitution, which was once widespread, subsists in much of the Americas – if somewhat unsatisfactorily from Canada to Argentina –  despite the President declaring that “…We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States … with all of those benefits.”

Although some label this as divisive rhetoric, no European state now has “birthright citizenship”. The last was Ireland which repealed the entitlement in 2005.

New Zealand law changed in 2006, followed in 2007 in Australia.


31 October 2018

Yesterday’s NZ Politics Daily lists 19 social media items commenting about the Minister of Immigration exercising his discretion to grant a residence visa to Mr Sroubek (who once upon a time gained resident status as Mr Antolik ) an imprisoned drug smuggler and criminal associate of the Hell’s Angels, whose responses at a recent parole hearing were described by the Judge chairing the Parole Panel as self-exculpatory, evasive, long-winded and …. manifestly untruthful.

None seems to understand the Minister’s motivation. Few are sympathetic to his refusal to give reasons for his decision. Some infer from the Minister’s actions that his advisers persuaded him that the Czech Republic is a corrupt and lawless society where Mr Sroubek would soon fall victim to extrajudicial killing should he be repatriated. The Opposition immigration spokesperson is agitated by such a portrayal of the Czech Republic, a long-standing EU democracy.

But how does the Czech Republic measure up as an effective, corruption free, politically stable democracy committed to the rule of law and the well-being of its citizens? The Worldwide Governance Indicators provide a sound basis for comparison. Although not placed like New Zealand in the 90 – 100 percentile on the WGI six dimensions of good governance, the Czech Republic is in 75 – 90 percentile for five of the dimensions.  However, it drops to the 50 – 75 percentile for the Control of Corruption, aligning it with states like Italy, Spain, Hungary, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Latvia and Greece  – and ahead of Central and South America, most of Asia and Africa, Russia etc.

The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index provides a similar sort of picture. Of the 31 countries in the pilot survey, the Czech Republic (Czechia) is ranked 28th – with a hopeless tax administration and weak integrity systems.  Canada topped the Index, New Zealand was second helped by a very strong integrity rating, and Australia was third.

Worldwide Governance Indicators 2018


New Zealand Czech Republic
Voice & Accountability



Political Stability / Absence of Violence



Govt. Effectiveness



Regulatory Quality



Rule of Law



Control of Corruption

100  70





Have the Worldwide Governance Indicators lost their shine?

30 October 2018

The 2018 update of the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) was published last month.  Despite the continuing support of the World Bank and the Brookings Institute, the enthusiasm that has previously accompanied the release of the WGI data seems extraordinarily diminished this year. Few national agencies report satisfaction with – or concern about – the assessed change in the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised.

The WGI is a composite of more than 30 data sources, including international and non-government organisations, think tanks, and private sector institutes. Much of that data is separately published. A strength of the WGI is its comprehensiveness.

The WGI provides 20 years of data on processes by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of governments to formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the State for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions. These dimensions of governance are grouped as:

  • voice and accountability;
  • political stability and absence of violence;
  • government effectiveness;
  • regulatory quality;
  • rule of law; and
  • control of corruption.

Over those 20 years some notable changes in the quality of governance have occurred although movement among the top and bottom dozen countries is generally gradual – and the gap between the bottom and the top rankings doesn’t lessen.  When they are good they are very very good, but when they are bad…..

Scandinavian countries together with Singapore and New Zealand have always measured well on most of the governance dimensions. The 2018 WGI continues that pattern.

The New Zealand Auditor-General has used the WGI as a measure of good governance in the NZ State Sector in the Annual Report of that agency since 2011.   The relevance is evidenced this year with New Zealand as best ranking country in two of the WGI dimensions,  and second, third, fourth, and eighth in each of the other dimensions.

Worldwide Governance Indicators  2018

Voice & Accountability Political Stability & Absence of Violence Government Effectiveness Regulatory Quality Rule of Law Control of Corruption
Singapore   41  99 100 100  97  98
Norway 100  90  99  96 100 100
Sweden 100  81  96  96  99  98
New Zealand  99












Netherlands  99  80  97  99  97  95
Finland  98  88  98  97 100  99
Switzerland  98  93 100  97  99  97
Denmark  97  76  96  92  98  99
Luxembourg  97  96  94  94  95  96
Germany  96  67  94  95  91  94
Austria  94  86  92  91  98  91
Iceland  94  97 91  90  91  93


Climate change and destruction of nature apparently of most concern to young people

10 October 2017

Worldwide a substantial majority of those aged between 18 -35 are optimistic and see the world as full of opportunity, even though only 50% believe they can actively contribute to decision-making in their countries.  That is a conclusion drawn from responses to the Global Shapers Annual Survey for 2017 released last month under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. The survey is compiled from responses of about 25,000 members of the Global Shapers Community –  with input proportional to nationality.  The New Zealand hub had 20 respondents (30% male).  (Perhaps the less forceful influence of young voters on the general election results than the predicted “youthquake”, confirms the survey finding that many young people question whether they can actively contribute to decision-making in their country.)

The survey shows that climate change and large-scale conflicts are real global concerns to those under 35.   As in previous years the most serious global issue is “climate change/destruction of nature” ( 48.8% of votes ).  “Large-scale conflict/wars” is ranked second,  and third is “inequality (income, discrimination)”  with 38.9% and 30.8% of votes respectively.

The Middle East and North Africa is the only region that ranks “large-scale conflict/wars” as the top issue (53.6%)  followed by “religious conflicts” (38.8%) and “poverty” (29.9%).

Reflecting concern for climate change, over 91% of young people “agree” and “strongly agree” with the statement that “science has proven that humans are responsible for climate change”. There is striking difference though between different income-level economies. In the low-income category, only 37.8% “strongly agree”, while across the other income-level groups no fewer than 71% “strongly agree”.

With the exception of Oceania, respondents consider that corruption remains the most pressing concern in their own countries.   “Government accountability and transparency/corruption” again ranked 1st with 46.9% of votes globally. It is followed by “inequality” (38.1%) and “lack of economic opportunity/ employment” (30.5%).

Apparently young Australians and New Zealanders see things differently.   “Climate change/destruction of nature” continues to be their top concern (63.3%) both globally and at the country level.  For the 238 Australian and New Zealand respondents (designated as Oceania), climate change is more than a global issue.  The survey observes that “ it is something that affects young people in their everyday life and that is already affecting their future and immediate environment”.