Wednesday, October 19, 2005

One of the cleanest countries in the world

Transparency International have released their annual Corruption Perceptions Index, and once again New Zealand ranks as one of the cleanest countries in the world. We share second place with Finland, with Iceland taking the top spot. Positions 4 and 5 are taken by Denmark and Singapore respectively; the worst countries were Bangladesh and Chad.

One of the things that is clear from the index is that while there is a definite correlation, it is not just poor countries that suffer from corruption. Italy ranks below Botswana, while Namibia scores equal with Greece. And it is poorer countries - Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria - that have made significant progress, while richer ones such as Canada and Ireland have slipped. What matters is transparent public accounts, effective enforcement, and above all a culture that simply does not tolerate such things.

In an effort to reduce corruption, the UN General Assembly negotiated and approved the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2003. The convention obligies parties to work to prevent and criminalise corruption, to establish legal jurisdiction over their own nationals involved in bribery overseas, and to cooperate with other nations on enforcement and asset recovery. New Zealand has signed the convention, but has yet to ratify it. Perhaps that's something the new Minister of Foreign Affairs should be asked about when Parliament resumes...


I'd suggest that there may be a number of good reasons to be wary of ratifying this convention.

We should be quite careful about extending national jurisdiction to the acts of citizens overseas. Traditionally, a nation's laws have stopped at that nation's borders, and it has been for the country where a crime took place to prosecute. I think this is right on the whole and would argue that there needs to be a convincing practical need to depart from this model. (I suspect that countries that have implemented extra-territorial corruption laws have managed relatively few succesful prosecutions under those laws).

Secondly, I think we should be reluctant on principle to place aspects of our legal system under international treaty. Once we do so, we are relinguishing the right to modify those laws without denouncing an international treaty. An example of this are the various drug control treaties, which bind nations to a "war on drugs" mentality which is seen in many individual nations as bad public policy.

I do, however think we shouldn't sign treaties we don't plan to ratify - can a nation "unsign" a treaty due to lack of ratification?

Posted by Rich : 10/19/2005 09:15:00 AM

On another topic have you heard about the human security report, it seems that the UN has been succeeding at reducing the number of fatalities due to war .

- BB

Posted by Anonymous : 10/19/2005 10:32:00 AM

Canada's Globe and Mail sounded quite upset that the True North
had slipped several places (and
what's worse, behind ...Australia.
Incidentally, we're 2nd Equal with

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 10/19/2005 11:41:00 AM

Well, the practical need is that with bribery it takes two to tango - but frequently, one party is beyond the jurisdiction of the afflicted country (as where multinational businesses bribe officials in third-world nations). One solution to this is extradition - but in some cases jurisdiction may be unclear so the affected country cannot charge the buyer, and there are countries that refuse under any circumstances to extradite their own nationals. Asserting jurisdiction over your own nationals overseas, or over crimes commited against your own nationals or your own state (not exactly uncommon) is one way of plugging this gap.

Having done some digging, NZ law already recognises this: sections 105 C, D, and E of the Crimes Act 1961 assert jurisdiction over bribery of foreign public officials performed overseas by New Zealanders - provided it is illegal in the country in question and not for "routine government action" (getting a drivers license or whatever; and explicitly not being awarded a contract) or where the benefit is small. That seems to get the balance about right.

As for the more general point, of course we should be cautious about signing up for things willy-nilly, and we certainly shouldn't sign up for any convention abhorrent to our principles. At the same time, New Zealand has had a consistent foreign policy position for the past fifty years of working to establish and strengthen international law, and our signing up for various legal instruments reflects this. Signing isn't binding as such (though there'd be a loss of mana from "unsigning", which would be crippling for us) - but AFAIUI, NZ doesn't sign up to conventions and treaties it has no intention of ratifying.

Hopefully they'll put this one before Parliament sometime soon (yes, they go to select committee) so people can have their say on it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/19/2005 12:54:00 PM

Most of the reason for Canada's fall was that other countries had improved and leapfrogged them - but at the same time, they had dropped by 0.1. Australia slipped in rank, while not getting any worse, and the US slipped in rank, while actually getting better (I guess they weren't looking at Tom DeLay and his republican friends).

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/19/2005 12:56:00 PM

The other correlation to make is with countries which are moving forward with OIA-type legislation. Turkey got one in the last year, Nigeria's moving that way, as is Kazakhstan. Italy's one is a joke and Canada and Ireland have slipped back significantly on this front in recent years. Ireland in particular saw requests fall by over 50% after user-fees were introduced, not just for making requests, but also for making a complaint to the Information Commissioner.

The only real exception to this trend is Singapore, which is ferociously anti-OIA and yet apparently manages to be relatively uncorrupt. Could be something to do with the thought-police and fearsome penalties though?

Posted by Anonymous : 10/19/2005 04:34:00 PM

The methodology of the study was to interview "analysts and businessmen" about their perceptions of national corruption.

Singapore is famously intolerant of criticism - possibly inducing those interviewed to be nice about the place.

Posted by Rich : 10/20/2005 12:28:00 PM