Public sector returns to top spot in corruption perception index
New Zealand's public sector reclaimed the top spot in Transparency International's corruption perception index in a year when policymakers pushed through legislation targeting organised crime and corruption, and clamped down on the potential misuse of foreign trusts.
The country achieved a score of 90 out of 100 for 2016 matching Denmark as the nations seen as least corrupt among 176 countries, and an improvement on the fourth-placed ranking in 2015. Finland, Sweden and Norway rounded out the top five, while Somalia, South Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Yemen were seen as the five most corrupt countries.
New Zealand passed anti-corruption legislation last year, ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, over which Transparency International has previously criticised the government for dragging its heels. Separately, the second round of anti-money laundering legislation was fast-tracked and New Zealand's foreign trust regime clamped down in response to the release of the 'Panama Papers', which highlighted the use of those structures to channel illegal funds and avoid paying tax.
"Our public sector agencies have focused successfully on developing processes that prevent corruption and these contribute to New Zealand's stand-out reputation for a trusted public sector," Transparency International New Zealand chair Suzanne Snively said in a statement. "New Zealand trades on its low corruption reputation and we are increasingly finding how to transfer these behaviours from our public to our private sector to leverage off this enviable reputation for integrity."
Snively told BusinessDesk the work by government policy advisers, who "we don't value enough", needed to be acknowledged in driving through the legislation that helped lift New Zealand's ranking.
Justice Minister Amy Adams welcomed the improvement, saying it reflected "New Zealand's zero-tolerance of bribery and corruption, and affirms our reputation as world leaders in this area".
Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said the country's "reputation for honesty, transparency and justice is a great advantage in conducting international trade and other dealings" and underlined the importance of maintaining the nation's high standards.
Transparency International's Snively said New Zealand's checks and balances of the public sector through the offices of the ombudsman and auditor-general rate more highly than those in other jurisdictions, although the was always the risk that underfunding could undermine their ability to do that job.
She said proactive releases by government agencies was one of the strongest ways to combat corruption and create a culture of transparency.