NZ’s Transparency International ranking rings hollow

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By Jon Doe

New Zealand is ranked first equal with Denmark in the Transparency International annual index of perceived levels of public sector corruption. And perceived is the key word here. Because in reality, when it comes to government departments that so-called transparency is like a brick wall.

Make an inquiry about most anything – such as when data will be released about people’s adverse reactions to the Covid vaccine and you’re told to wait 20 days as it is placed in the Official Information Act (OIA) basket. Even though the question was not submitted as an OIA request.

Of course, the 20 day limit to answer is frequently extended, or the answer is that you need to ask another department – and the clock starts again.

Ask who sits on a Ministry of Health committee and you can wait a year for the answer. By which time the committee has changed its membership. Hardly open and transparent. Is it corrupt? Depends on which dictionary definition of the word you select.

So when Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says he welcomes New Zealand’s position in the 2020 Transparency International index it all seems a bit hollow.

Transparency International NZ (TINZ) appears to be mainly funded by government departments, it doesn’t publish details of its meetings (agendas and minutes), and its budget for the year to June 2020 was $330,000.

Boshier says: “What the Index measures is people’s perception or experience of corruption when interacting with the public sector in their country.

“It’s not an absolute measure of corruption, but a very strong indicator.”

There are other indicators though. For example, Boshier’s monthly release of complaints that flow across his desk.

In the six months from 1 July to 30 December 2020, Boshier received 667 OIA complaints, a 17 per cent increase on the previous six months.

“I remain concerned about the number of complaints that concern delays in making decisions on official information requests,” Boshier says.

“For the last six months of 2020, 18 per cent of Local Government OIMA and 28 per cent of OIA complaints concerned a delay. I encourage agencies and local authorities to emphasise transparency.”

One cannot emphasis something that isn’t there.

And you have to wonder who Boshier has in mind when makes statements such as: “New Zealanders should be proud of our reputation as being considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world. But we can never afford to be complacent.”

From the TINZ 2020 annual report.
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