Transparency is the best foil for corruption

Lyn Provost

New Zealand has worked hard to have an ethical and transparent public sector.

Accusations of corruption and bribery should be of concern to us all.

During my time as Auditor-General, I have seen an increase in these accusations.

None of my inquiries has upheld those accusations.

However, complacency is not an option.  We should all continue to demand transparency in how our public resources have been used and what was achieved with our money.  Transparency is the best foil for corruption.

Elements of Excellence

Prevention of bribery and corruption, displaying good ethical behaviour and proper use of resources are vital elements of excellence in business and underpin good governance.
I have done a fair bit of work in the Pacific Islands and globally.

The settings for transparency vary greatly.

In New Zealand, we know how much the public debt is and we publish the amount.

A few other countries do as well.

But some other countries count only some of their debt and publish it, some others count some of their debt and don’t publish it, and some have no idea so can’t publish how much debt they have.

Imagine running your company or household that way.

I must compliment the Pacific Auditors-General who are working hard to bring financial transparency to their countries.  As an example, the small island of Nauru recently, with the help of India, produced their first accounts in about 15 years.

I would therefore like to propose that New Zealand’s commitment to transparency is rare in a global context, of which we should be very proud.

Value of Openness

Why do you think transparency is precious?

My easy answer is: if you don’t provide people with information, they will make it up and if they have partial information, they will fill the gaps with the ideas that suit their own purpose.  That might sound cynical but I have seen it more often than not.

A more high-level answer is that transparency promotes trust.

As an Auditor General report said, “If people are to continue to support the democratic process, they must trust the institutions of the state.  This means trusting that public entities will act impartially and lawfully; public entities will use resources wisely; people will have equity of access to government services; people are treated fairly; and people will have access to useful information about the activities and achievements of public entities.”

Fair treatment

Let us reflect on “People are treated fairly.”

In the New Zealand culture, fairness is really important.

Many of the difficult matters I handled during my career had a similar root cause – someone was or was perceived to be treated unfairly.

The Sheep Inquiry

For the sheep inquiry, there was perceived wrongdoing in that a foreign businessman had been paid money by the Government.

In Police, fair pay across all parts of New Zealand was a part of the culture.

Respecting such cultural norms is critical for smooth day-to-day business and vital for those trying to bring about change.

Lyn Provost, who retired earlier this year as Controller & Auditor General of New Zealand, was the Guest Speaker at the Seventh Annual Indian Newslink Sir Anand Satyanand Lecture held at Alexandra Park, Auckland, on Monday, August 7, 2017. The above is a small extraction of her speech.

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  1. Sir Anand Satyanand 2. Vino Ramayah 3. Ranjna Patel 4. Dr Rajen Prasad

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