National integrity at risk over political funding

National integrity at risk over political funding

Sourced Content
TINZ, Wellington, January 25, 2020

Transparency International New Zealand Chair Suzanne Snively (File Photo)

In November 2019, Transparency International UK launched the updated Anti-Corruption Pledge Tracker. This global Tracker monitors the progress of the commitments made by governments at the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit held in London.

It is common for country leaders to move on to their next challenge, even when the last has not yet been completed.

The global body, Transparency International (TI), makes a strong case for the pledges to continue to be a focus of governments. TI regularly scrutinises governments to ensure accountability in their fulfilment of those promises, suitably maintained for relevance. 

Tracking commitments

For the past three years, TI has been tracking progress of anti-corruption commitments made at the Summit through Transparency International UK (TIUK)’s Promise to Practice Project

Civil society’s role in picking up the baton and ensuring countries are held accountable has proven to be vital. This is because governments that attended the London Summit at then Prime Minister David Cameron’s invitation, did not adopt any formal mechanism for implementation of the Summit commitments.

Three years of pledge tracking have identified big trends in the progress of commitments related to certain themes such as beneficial ownership or asset recovery, as well as identifying specific country case studies and lessons learned. 

This is written up in a report ”Advocacy in Action”

TINZ efforts

Together with 21 countries worldwide, Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) supported TIUK in collecting data for their innovative and interactive global pledge tracker.

Monitoring 170 commitments towards #anticorruption and compiling the data, provides informative stories of #AdvocacyInAction!  

Of the countries whose pledges are being tracked, 45% of commitments to whistle-blower protection are completed and overall, 31% of all commitments are completed.

The following appeared in Transparency Times of TINZ January 2020 issue:

New Zealand and political integrity

Transparency of political party funding is essential to provide clarity about who is influencing decision making.

The lack of transparency in political party and campaign funding is putting New Zealand’s reputation for strong integrity at serious risk. It erodes trust in our elected representatives, degrades our financial well-being, and impacts on our society and how it works together.

Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ)’s recent report Building accountability: Summary of the National Integrity System Assessment 2018 Update found evidence of serious accumulating threats to the integrity of political party funding.

It notes that recently there has been little progress towards more transparency in Parliament and its administration (a key recommendation in 2013) and that the problem of political party funding has grown more acute rather than being addressed.

“Make no mistake about it: despite New Zealand’s reputation for low corruption and high quality civil service, the country is surprisingly vulnerable to capture by monied interests”, concluded guest authors Maria Armoudian and Timothy Kuhner,  referred to Is New Zealand becoming a plutocracy? (November 2019 Transparency Times).

Apparent risks

They note generally:

“Research has shown that the great majority of funds available to campaigns, parties, and interest groups are provided by a tiny sliver of the population. Approximately 0.5% of the adult population controls the market for campaign funds. About 0.0001% of the adult population controls superPAC (Political Action Committee) spending. The great majority of lobbying activity favours big business interests.”

“This oligarchy denigrates and corrupts democracy by its insidious influence, degrading core values, such as political equality, citizen participation and trust, government representation, responsiveness and integrity. The resulting laws and policies, as political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have shown, serve the rich, often to the detriment of the rest of the country, creating a downward spiral toward plutocracy and climate crisis.”

Weak disclosure rules

“Researchers who wish to document the fundraising base and economic backers of the major parties, can’t even get a foothold because of the incredibly weak disclosure rules. Under such conditions, it’s all too predictable that this country’s reputation as one of the least corrupt in the world is poised to decline. More important than our reputation for high quality civil service and integrity, we risk losing the actual reality of good government.”

Political financing

Political financing is a national and local issue in New Zealand. Our recent general election cycle highlighted that the issue of political financing is a local issue as well as a national issue.

Local body political candidates appear to think that the public is only interested in local body services and rates that directly impact on their households and communities. Only due to media coverage did candidates become aware that there was public interest in their sources of campaign funding.

The Auckland Transport case is a recent example of the negative way corruption can impact local communities. This case was prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office.

Strong integrity systems that inspect, detect, prevent and protect against corruption are essential if our local communities are to thrive. Strong local government integrity systems lead to better public services and attract population growth that results in lower rates per household.

Source: Transparency Times, Transparency International New Zealand, Wellington.

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