More face saving needed by Facebook?

3 October 2017

Does the New Zealand general election mean much in the international scheme of things?

A litmus test may be the extent to which the Great Powers have interfered in the electoral process.  Research published in the International Studies Quarterly in June 2016 indicates that there is a long history of governments attempting to help or hinder candidates or parties in other countries’ elections.  The United States and the USSR/Russia have intervened in one of every nine national executive elections between 1946 and 2000.

These 117 PEIGs (Partisan Electoral Interventions by the Great Powers) don’t include more intrusive and covert regime-changing operations.  The research was published before recent problematic elections, but shows that in the 12 years preceding the 2016 US Presidential election, known PEIGs occurred in Moldova, Ukraine, Lebanon, Kenya and Afghanistan – and no doubt others remain undisclosed.

It is apparent now that Russian interests exploited Facebook accounts and paid for at least $100,000 of related advertising in the lead up to the last US  Presidential election. Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook has acknowledged that taking down only 470 accounts – which were “liked” to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian troll farm – may have been insufficient.  Measures were then introduced to avoid a recurrence elsewhere, and to ensure the integrity of the German elections  (the same weekend as the New Zealand general election).   Facebook reported taking down “tens of thousands” of fake accounts in Germany. It also acknowledged that it had removed 30,000 accounts before the French election. (The New Zealand election didn’t get a mention.)

Facebook reported that it didn’t entirely quash fake accounts and false news.  Its actions “… did not eliminate misinformation entirely in this (German) election — but they did make it harder to spread, and less likely to appear in people’s News Feeds.”  Facebook now accepts that there had been widespread political misinformation on its platform, that it learned a lot, and will continue to apply those lessons in other national elections. Zuckerberg said that Facebook will hire more staff to work on election security, collaborate with election commissions world-wide, and share threat intelligence with other social media companies. He indicated that “We’re going to bring Facebook to an even higher standard of transparency.” … “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.”

The potential of social media in the New Zealand general election appears not to have interested the Great Powers.  According to Bryce Edwards social media hasn’t even been exploited by the New Zealand contestants “… but instead it’s become largely about stunts and sanitised PR”.  The potential of Facebook may show when special votes are counted and if social media-generated spontaneous registrations on Election Day impact on the tally of those who followed standard enrollment procedures.

If this turns out to be the case, we may well question whether Facebook is concerned with the integrity of the democratic process. It will confirm the intended purpose of Facebook – to connect, to gather market information, and to sell.  But it may also confirm that Facebook must be regarded as a Great Power.  It has more than 2 billion active users. It is growing “exponentially”. It is predicted to number 30% of the global population next year… which would be speedier if China allowed its people to take part. It is bigger than any Power, great and small.

Facebook’s broadcast of fake news about the Las Vegas mass killing overnight, attributing the maniacal shooting to an incorrectly named, Trump-hating liberal, must seriously undermine the value of Zuckerberg’s assurance of transparency and integrity.

It may be that even our democracy needs to protect itself against a PEIG by Facebook.

New Zealand continues to score well in Worldwide Governance Indicators

1 October 2017

Last week, the World Bank, in association with the Brookings Institute, released the 2016 Worldwide Governance Indicators report.  This builds on the statistical series developed over the last 20 years, now incorporating individual and aggregated governance indicators for more than 200 countries (and territories) assessing six dimensions of governance. These are

  • Voice and Accountability
  • Political Stability and Absence of Violence
  • Government Effectiveness
  • Regulatory Quality
  • Rule of Law
  • Control of Corruption

The previous indicators were for 2011.  New Zealand ranked among the Top 10 (best scoring) countries on all six dimensions at that time.  It has maintained that position in the 2016 indicators.  The score for Voice and Accountability increased one point, Control of Corruption was unchanged, and the score for the other dimensions slipped one point.

The Tables below show New Zealand’s comparative ratings (these are my extract from the data sets) in 2011 and 2016.

Worldwide Governance Indicators 2011 – Ten top ranking countries (descending order)

Voice and Accountability Political Stability Government Effectiveness Regulatory Quality Rule of Law Controlling Corruption
Switzerland Liechtenstein Finland Denmark Finland Denmark
Norway Finland Denmark New Zealand Sweden New Zealand
Denmark New Zealand Sweden Luxembourg Denmark Sweden
Sweden Luxembourg New Zealand Netherlands New Zealand Finland
Luxembourg Switzerland Switzerland Sweden Norway Luxembourg
Liechtenstein Sweden Netherlands Singapore Netherlands Netherlands
Finland Iceland Norway Australia Luxembourg Norway
New Zealand Singapore Liechtenstein Finland Australia Australia
Netherlands Netherlands Australia Ireland Ireland Singapore
Iceland Denmark Luxembourg Switzerland Switzerland Switzerland


Worldwide Governance Indicators 2016 – Ten top ranking countries (descending order)

Voice and Accountability Political Stability Government Effectiveness Regulatory Quality Rule of Law Controlling Corruption
Norway Singapore Singapore Singapore Norway Finland
Sweden New Zealand (2nd=) Switzerland New Zealand (2nd=) Sweden New Zealand (1st=)
Finland Liechenstein Norway Netherlands Singapore Singapore
Netherlands Luxembourg Denmark Liechenstein Finland Sweden
Denmark Netherlands Finland Switzerland Switzerland Denmark
Switzerland Switzerland New Zealand Sweden New Zealand Norway
Liechenstein Iceland Netherlands Australia Denmark Australia
New Zealand Sweden Sweden Finland Netherlands Switzerland
Iceland Australia Liechtenstein Sweden Ireland Netherlands
Australia Finland Luxembourg Iceland Liechenstein Luxembourg


The indicators reflect more than 30 different data sources, and build on “the experiences and perceptions of thousands of experts and survey respondents worldwide”. The data sources include well-known surveys,  and numerous expert assessments produced by the private sector, non-government organisations, and public sector agencies.

The World Bank interest recognises that good governance is essential to national development.  “…Governance is, after all, the process by which governments are selected and replaced; it is about the policy choices they make and implement;  and it is about the respect of citizens and the state for the laws and traditions that govern their interactions.  Each of these aspects of governance matters for development, and so unsurprisingly rich countries on average rank higher in the WGI than poor countries do…”  What the indicators show however is that some developing and emerging countries such as Botswana, Costa Rica, and Uruguay rank higher, for example on Control of Corruption, than some western economies.

The interactive dataset on the WGI website enables detailed comparisons of governance developments within and among countries.





NZSIS comes in from the cold – spying with integrity

30 September 2017

The number of Public Service departments went up again on Friday when substantial parts of the Security and Intelligence Act 2017 came into force.  As s 7 of the Act states, the NZSIS is now a department of State – adding it to the other 29 listed in Schedule 1 to the State Sector Act.  The Act also confirms that the GCSB continues as a department of State.

Interestingly, few other agencies are prescribed by statute as being departments of State.  The Oranga Tamariki Act which established the 28th Public Service department earlier this year did not specify that the agency was a department of State.  Inclusion in Schedule 1 to the State Sector Act creates a department as part of the Public  Service (non-inclusion confirms that some agencies are “non Public Service” departments ), and by implication, makes public servants of departmental  employees.

NZSIS “spooks” are now public servants. GCSB staff have been public servants since 2003 when that department was added to Schedule 1. With a single Act covering the activities of both security agencies, their staff will have common obligations to the State Services Commissioner’s Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services.  ( As a “non Public Service” department, NZSIS was part of the State Services but like Police and the NZ Defence Force had agency-specific integrity commitments. )

November marks the 10th anniversary of the Standards of Integrity and Conduct for the State Services being issued to more than 120 departments and Crown entities – and subsequently to numerous Crown entity subsidiaries.  The State Services Commissioner imposed expectations based on a broad meaning which the State Sector Act gives to integrity – “…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…”  This reflects the adage of Alan K Simpson that if you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.

One of the complexities of a code applying equally to agencies with functions covering the spectrum of government has been resolved in time for the appointment of Ministerial staff to the incoming Government.  The political neutrality obligation previously applied equally to staff who work for the Government in roles that have a political dimension. The code of conduct for Ministerial Staff issued on 12 September 2017 now permits this group of State servants to serve the political aspirations of the Government, exempting them from the requirement to act with political neutrality set out in the “We are Impartial”  standard.  Ministerial staff can act professionally when undertaking partisan activities, whereas the Appendix to the SSC guidance on Understanding the Code indicates that it would not be professional to “…engage in activities that undermine the State Services’ commitment to integrity and professionalism – in effect failing to meet the obligations to be fair, impartial, responsible and trustworthy. ..”

A new challenge may now arise for NZSIS staff with the requirement to act honestly – an element of being trustworthy.  The SSC guidance is that “…We must not deceive or knowingly mislead…”  A NZSIS mantra is to neither confirm or deny.   The guidance on Understanding the Code goes some of the way to recognising this.

“…The principle of honesty underpins the obligations of all of us in the State Services. Public trust in the State Services will be determined primarily by the degree to which New Zealanders believe that at all times we act with honesty. We are expected to respond to what we believe to be true, and to act always with a focus on accuracy and authenticity.

Honesty does not necessarily mean continuous, full disclosure. In some circumstances, full disclosure is a requirement. Other circumstances may require care. For example, the courts have recognised that organisations with responsibility to enforce legislation cannot be required to openly disclose their evidence-gathering activities. It is sometimes necessary to disguise the way these activities are carried out. But these circumstances are rare. Unless there is a lawful reason for doing so, we must not act on the premise that the end justifies the means…”


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”.

Public service numbers since Lord Normanby’s first appointee in 1839

14 August 2016

Last week the Minister of State Services published findings of the latest six monthly headcount in the core government administration. This shows the extent to which agencies (somewhat broader than “core public service” as described by the Minister)  have complied with the cap on staffing numbers imposed in 2008 by the newly elected  Key Administration. Then with notable exceptions including much of the Ministry of Social Development (including CYF) and Department of Corrections, employee numbers were capped in Public Service departments (the 35 departments then listed in Sch1 to the State Sector Act) and five Crown Entities (Housing NZ Corporation, Accident Compensation Corporation,  NZ Qualifications Authority, NZ Trade and Enterprise, NZ Transport Agency and the Tertiary Education Commission).

There were 38,849 relevant employees in December 2008 when the cap was imposed.  The latest headcount is 35,917 being a 190 full-time equivalent reduction since December 2015. (In December 2015  a substantially greater reduction – to 35,335 – was projected.) There are approximately 10,000 employees in MSD and Corrections who are not subject to the cap.

An interesting coincidence is that today is the 177th anniversary of what can be considered as the appointment of New Zealand’s first public servant. That is the date of the Instructions which Lord Normanby, the Secretary for State for War and the Colonies,  gave to Captain Hobson on his appointment as Consul in New Zealand in 1839.  Hobson’s mission was to establish a “settled form of civil government” in New Zealand which reflected the expectations prescribed by the Secretary of State. (James Busby who was the British Resident in the Bay of Islands from 1833 – 1840 was commissioned by the Governor of New South Wales.)

Lord Normanby  referred to exercising “mildness, justice, and perfect sincerity…”  and that ….”dealings …  must be conducted on …principles of sincerity, justice, and good faith…”  “The acquisition of land by the Crown … must be confined to such districts as the Natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves.”

Although New Zealand was to be a dependency to the Government of New South Wales Lord Normanby indicated that “… I trust that the time is not distant when it may be proper to establish in New Zealand itself a local legislative authority.”  But Hobson was to be the only Colonial Office appointee in the first instance. Subordinate officers with pay “…fixed with the most anxious regard to frugality in the expenditure of the public resources” were to  be selected from the colonists either of New South Wales or New Zealand, “…but upon the full and distinct understanding that their tenure of office, and even the existence of the offices which they are to hold, must be provisional, and dependent upon the future pleasure of the Crown.”

Permanent appointments were made in May 1841 by Lord Russell who had taken over as Secretary of State.  His appointments included William Martin as Chief Justice, William Swainson as Attorney-General and George Oathwaite as Registrar of the Supreme Court.  They replaced Hobson’s appointees although Willoughby Shortland (a former naval officer like Hobson) who accompanied Hobson from England was also appointed by Lord Russell as Colonial Secretary. He acted as Governor after Hobson’s death but was sacked as Colonial Secretary soon after Governor Fitzroy arrived.  Fitzroy replaced Shortland with Andrew Sinclair – a retired naval surgeon who accompanied Fitzroy to New Zealand.

Sinclair did not show particular ability as Colonial Secretary, but he acquired a reputation for being “honest, upright, scrupulous, and laborious”. He is recognised for setting up the nucleus of an efficient Civil Service, with men like G. S. Cooper and William Gisborne in key positions. He later drowned crossing the Rangitata River.

Swainson was praised by Lord Stanley and James Stephen at the Colonial Office for the clarity and intelligibility of his legislation and the completely new basis for the legal system in New Zealand. He opposed  responsible government recognising that it placed Maori at the mercy of a land-hungry European minority.  Seen consequently as a precise, careful but self-conceited lawyer he was described as a cultured English gentleman.  He was the first Speaker of the Legislative Council. He died in 1884 at Judges Bay in the house he brought from England.

Shaky start to responsible government in New Zealand 160 years ago

11 August 2016

New Zealand’s first attempt at representative government under the 1852 Constitution ended 160 years ago this month.  The Constitution championed by Governor Grey not only set up six Provincial Governments but provided for the 1853 election of up to 42 members to a House of Representatives and the appointment of 10 Legislative Council members, subordinated to the Governor. Meeting in a notorious leaky building, the “shedifice” at Auckland, the General Assembly called for responsible government. Acting Governor Wynyard referred the resolution to London but attempted a half measure of adding first three elected members, led by James Fitzgerald, to the Executive Council, then followed by two from the Legislative Council.

These members anticipated that the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney General and Treasurer would be pensioned off from the Executive Council, enabling the formation of a responsible Cabinet. Frustrated when told that change would require confirmation from the Secretary of State, Fitzgerald’s administration resigned on 2 August 1854.  The Acting Governor used Edward Gibbon Wakefield as a sole adviser until trying again on 31 August to govern through an Executive Council made up of a balance of appointees and elected members led by Thomas Forsaith. This Administration also fell over after three days and all power reverted to the Governor.

The British Government approval for responsible government was conveyed to the General Assembly, which made arrangements for a general election in 1855 to select members of the proposed Parliament. The franchise was males over 21 with a small property holding. Whereas the Provincial governments attended to land development, immigration, roads and railways, the national government focused on banking, shipping, Crown lands, courts, crime, customs, coinage, weights and measures, marriage and wills. The Governor had control over Maori affairs, native land sales and imperial affairs.  He would disallow legislation that was repugnant to British law. He would accept advice from responsible ministers whether he agreed or not. On ‘imperial matters’ he would receive advice, but may refer those matters to the Secretary of State.

As required by the British Government one of the first actions of the Parliament was to approve pension arrangements for the appointees of the Secretary of State – including Swainson the Attorney General (appointed in 1841) and Sinclair the Colonial Secretary (appointed in 1844).

Edward Stafford established a stable Ministry over the next five years  after very short-lived attempts by Henry Sewell and William Fox, neither lasting more than a fortnight…





Seeing what we want to see?

9 August 2016

Measuring government agency effectiveness and efficiency is complicated;  and more so when comparing performance across the public sector.  The Performance Improvement Framework around which continuous improvement of NZ State Services is evaluated was refined again this year, diminishing the value of previous PIF reports for comparison purposes. The Trans Tasman Annual Review of Government Departments is probably too crude a tool to be taken seriously.

Making international comparisons is no less complex. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Ease of Doing Business Index (NZ 2nd in 2015),  Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  (NZ 4th in 2015) and numerous other measures like the Human Development Index (NZ 9th= in 2014) or even the World Happiness Index (NZ 9th in 2016) suggest the likely character of agencies but are insufficient to measure the competence and  efficiency of national agencies. Within the OECD the annual Government at a Glance survey is a generic performance indicator.

Nevertheless there are  international surveys that serve as  de facto comparators – assuming agencies have similar responsibilities; for example the Open Budget Index  may be seen as a comparative assessment of Finance Ministries – in which case the NZ Treasury could claim to be the best in the World, New Zealand having ranked highest on the two most recent Open Budget Indexes. The Global Peace Index where New Zealand has never ranked lower than 4th place may confirm the effectiveness of agencies in the Justice sector.

But some World Bank measures may provide a contrary picture.  The World Bank recently published the 2016 Logistics Performance Index, which measures the efficiency of clearance processes by border control agencies, – including speed, simplicity and predictability of formalities.  One product is a World Bank-produced pecking order of custom services in the 161 jurisdictions whose data is analysed. The top performing customs services, when the scores for the last four surveys are averaged,  are in Germany, Netherlands and Singapore.

NZ Customs Service has a mean rank of 22nd although New Zealand’s overall logistics performance puts it in 31st place. The New Zealand score dropped substantially in the 2016 index – to 37th place – which lowered the average of 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 LPIs.  Last week Indian media made play of India’s customs service performing better than New Zealand’s.

In the October 2015 UMR survey of public respect for government services in New Zealand, the NZ Customs Service was found to be the third most respected after the Fire Service and Police – and a little ahead of the Department of Conservation. If that is the perception New Zealanders have of an agency which rates poorly among comparable jurisdictions, a reasonable inference may be that the performance of agencies that are less well-regarded by New Zealanders is very poor compared with equivalent agencies in other developed jurisdictions.

Perhaps we see only what we want to see – and even when seeking to be objective “….we don’t see things as they are but as we are ourselves.”