Editorial: 90 per cent pure then?

Last updated 09:47 07/12/2012

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OPINION: Once again we can't market ourselves as 100 per cent pure, but it's still pleasing to be told that nowhere is less corrupt than New Zealand.

Such are the findings of the latest Transparency International Global Corruption Perceptions Index. Please don't skip over the "perceptions" bit. After all, mightn't that mean that our corrupt elements are masters of misdirection and concealment, getting away with their dirty doings and leaving no-one the wiser?

Possible, though this scenario relies not only on malevolence but an implausible degree of competence at governmental and corporate level.

When things go wrong in this country it's usually for reasons more stupid than sinister. Which is a comfort of sorts.

So yes, we're inclined to be pleased with the 90 per cent rating bettered by no other country on the transparency index, as an indication that roguery on our shores is generally the work of individuals. We're light on institutional corruption.

Before you start pointing out the latest displeasures at council, departmental or corporate disgrace, we need to distinguish between corruption and, for instance, failing to do a good job or prioritise well.

It seems fitting that hot on the heels of the assessment, Justice Helen Winkelmann has ordered discovery of documents relating to the Kim Dotcom operation, meaning not only that he has won the right to sue our police and the Government Communications Security Bureau, but they will have to reveal all manner of secret details, including information shared with other international intelligence agencies.

We should not lightly equate spying to corruption. On balance, we are better served if our intelligence agencies are good at their job - which is why we have cause to be troubled about the Dotcom affair from a few different directions. Putting aside questions of legality and morality (but carefully because we'll need them later), the ineptitude shown during the surveillance of and raid on a man who is the subject of civil, not criminal, litigation in the United States is troubling.

Justice Winkelmann's ruling is liable to prove, at very least, an embarrassment and a discomfort to New Zealand's spy networks and is, for want of a better description, in character of a nation that aspires to, if not always achieving, a "keep the buggers honest" approach.

Which brings us back to transparency. Though our public sector is perceived to be the least corrupt in the world, the New Zealand arm of Transparency International is working on a national integrity system assessment to provide a more detailed report into our vulnerability to corruption, measuring where our protections against corruption are strongest and weakest.

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Desk research will be finished next month and it will be consulting in February and March and publishing in the middle of the year. Former banking ombudsman Liz Brown is the project manager and the Office of the Auditor-General is providing resourcing. The project goals are good ones; here's hoping the recommendations it comes up with are good and specific.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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