Poneke and The Standard are both trumpeting our international ratings as the least corrupt country in the world lately. People do seem to be forgetting the sunshine for the clouds, I find. We have one debacle in which an MP is reprimanded for their behaviour, and suddenly everyone thinks our country is terribly corrupt as the media and National and Act all try to jump over the opportunity.
As expressed by one Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”1 Corruption as a trend has long been regarded as inseparable from wielding power. Whether you agree with the good Lord on the causal relationship or not is another matter. Frank Herbert, famous as an author of science fiction, has the counter-saying: “Power attracts the corruptible.”
The fact is that while corruption occurs here, (and I think it will inevitably occur anywhere, it’s just a question of prevalence and frequency) we are one of the places in the world that deals with it the quickest, (Winston Peters was being reviewed in a matter of weeks- some places in europe would manage months before that happened, and in places like Africa or Russia, it might not happen at all!) most fairly to all involved, including the potential perpetrator, and most openly to the public. The fact that we actually got to see some of the proceedings live despite the small size of our media and democracy is quite frankly amazing. The fact that a politician can have their reputation challenged even among a climate of political parties who routinely funnel money through secret trusts is excellent. We’re going so far as televising all parliamentary debates, and soon we plan to extend that treatment to select committees. If everyone else put as many resources-per-capita into dealing with corruption, in only the poorest or smallest of countries would anyone accused of corruption be wrongly excused. Framed this way, it really isn’t surprising that we are ranked first-equal at dealing with corruption.
Combating corruption is not only about stopping cops from going bent, or politicians from taking money or favours they shouldn’t, even if this is one of the best steps. It’s also about how speedily, fairly, and openly we deal with cases of corruption. How seriously such allegations are taken (which is part of why the USA is still so high up the rankings) is also a big part. The organisation that rated New Zealand first in the world even counts legalised corruption, such as “facilitation payments”, which are unheard of in New Zealand.
We shouldn’t just be mourning the fact that corruption isn’t always prevented here- although that’s a good goad for further action. We should also be celebrating the fact that our transparency, fairness, and accountability on this matter is world-class. We exceed the expectations of the founding democracies of France and the United States of America. Regardless of your misgivings over recent events, that ought to be something to celebrate as we think of how we can improve our lot, and potentially edge past Denmark and Sweden in the CPI.
1Sadly, Lord Acton lived in a time when women weren’t allowed to be great. I thought about whether it was appropriate to replace “man” with “person”, and decided on a footnote instead in this case.