28 Jan 2016

High-profile deals behind corruption slide - report

3:13 pm on 28 January 2016

Controversies such as the Saudi farm deal and SkyCity's Convention Centre mean New Zealand no longer sets the standard for integrity in the public service, as it slips down the world rankings for corruption.

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Photo: 123rf.com

New Zealand fell to fourth in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, [http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/295077/nz-slips-again-in-anti-corruption-rankings released yesterday.

It has previously topped the index seven times, including as recently as 2012 and 2013, and fell two spots this year after losing the top ranking to Denmark in the 2014 list. Finland and Sweden have now overtaken it and are perceived to have less corrupt public sectors than New Zealand.

The SkyCity Convention Centre plan, the Saudi sheep deal and the Oravida affair have been cited by Transparency International as the primary reasons for New Zealand's slide down the rankings.

An impression of the design in an image supplied by Sky City.

An impression of the design in an image supplied by Sky City. Photo: Supplied

The findings in the latest report have been backed up by the Public Service Association (PSA), with national secretary Glenn Barclay saying the group was not surprised by the drop thanks to a "growing lack of transparency" in the public sector.

"The secrecy around the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, the murky process around the Auckland Convention Centre deal and Serco's handling of Mount Eden Prison have made things worse."

Both the PSA and Transparency International have called on the government to act quickly to promote open, honest government.

"Integrity is one of New Zealand's most important assets, and our public servants work hard to maintain that," Mr Barclay said. "We can't afford to slip any further down these ratings."

Read the full Transparency International report online here

Transparency International NZ chair Suzanne Snively warned that New Zealand "trades on its corruption-free reputation".

"There are steps that can be taken immediately to re-establish New Zealand's exemplary reputation for a trusted public sector. Through this New Zealanders can gain greater returns from all the different things they do - teaching, farming, fishing, tourism , film, sport - because of our country's reputation for integrity."

While it has slid down the global rankings, New Zealand remains at the top of the Asia Pacific region, followed by Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan. Australia fell from 11th to 13th in the latest rankings.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said while New Zealand's fall in the rankings was disappointing, the country was still held in high esteem internationally for its anti-corruption efforts, and it was on track to rise again.

"The government has strengthened our anti-corruption measures and enhanced transparency since the underlying surveys for this index were undertaken, which we would expect to have a positive impact next year."

But with press freedom and public access to information about government spending making up a key part of the rankings, others such as Mr Barclay have concerns that recent issues with the Official Information Act, including delays and demands for payment, will have a negative effect on New Zealand's standing.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the country's reputation for fair dealing had been eroded, and was unlikely to improve.

"Today's report is unlikely to have captured all the fall-out from the Saudi sheep scandal, so we should expect another drop next year.

"It is shameful that the standards of transparency under [Prime Minister] John Key's leadership have slipped so far."