Is corruption a problem in New Zealand?

Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer revealed that 65 percent of New Zealanders felt that corruption had increased in the previous two years, but research suggests that such claims should not necessarily be taken at face value.

IGPS director Associate Professor Michael Macaulay.
Associate Professor Michael Macaulay

Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer revealed that 65 percent of New Zealanders felt that corruption had increased in the previous two years.

However, the Director of Victoria’s Institute for Governance and Policy Studies suggests that such claims should not necessarily be taken at face value.

"I’ve met lots of people who tell me that corruption is far worse in New Zealand than everyone lets on," says Dr Michael Macaulay.

"However, this is often because they use the word corruption in very different ways, and many of the things they point out may be better thought of as integrity violations rather than corruption issues."

Dr Macaulay, whose research interests lie in integrity, ethics and anti-corruption, says that this broader term covers issues such as nepotism and cronyism, as well as other forms of misconduct.

"Using the word 'corruption' as a blanket umbrella-term is unhelpful," he says.

"Nepotism for example, is still prevalent in the United Kingdom Parliament, but this requires a different response than, say, a business offering facilitation payments overseas.

"Of particular interest to me is the Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Legislation Bill, which is currently being read in Parliament and which is designed to bring New Zealand's anti-corruption laws in line with international agreements.

"The Bill contains a 'trading in influence' clause which, if it becomes enshrined in law, has potentially serious ramifications for industry and for the political system.

"It could end up being used to denote activities generally regarded not just as legal, but everyday and normal aspects of the political system, such as political party funding, sponsorships and lobbying. It will be hard to define whether certain donations to particular government sectors have indeed bought influence."