Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kiwi corruption

Maori are often charged in the public media with nepotism, the practice of favouring whanau regardless of merit. [The word comes from the Latin for nephew]. While there are clear practical reasons for this in many business and political affairs, and the expression seems global, Maori are increasingly accepting the realities of matching the skills needed in our development with the best people available. Ngai Tahu, for example, have made this an explicit corporate HR process.

And we can rest assured, the mainstream media will remain hypersensitive to any hints of impropriety by Maori operatives, ay.

But what is happening to our Pakeha?

While Aotearoa/NZ enjoys an excellent reputation for the lack of corruption - indeed by Transparency International's measure, we are perhaps the least corrupt nation on the planet - it is a slippery slope. I posted a while ago that only 44% of companies listed on NZX have policies prohibiting bribery. This compares to 72% of the UK top 100 companies (by market capitalisation), 57% in Europe, and 69% in the US. Recent and one can assume, ongoing revelations about behaviour at the highest levels of office in this country must give us pause for reflection. Worringly, our easy come, easy go corporate regulation has allowed some very shonky dealers to set up a physical address here while dealing in gun running and drugs.

John Banks professes ignorance over 50k worth of dosh gifted by Kim Dotcom, and Campbell Live ran footage of Banks proposing a toast to Mr. Dotcom at his birthday bash.

An interesting commentary on US political corruption by Ezra Klein in a recent NYRB describes the modus operandi of Jack Abramoff, convicted of corruption in his dealings on behalf of First Nations ventures (modern life if full of such ironies, e hoa ma). Here's his MO:

'Once I found a congressional office that was vital to our clients—usually because they were incredibly helpful and supportive—I would often become close to the chief of staff of the office. In almost every congressional office, the chief of staff is the center of power. Nothing gets done without the direct or indirect action on his or her part. After a number of meetings with them, possibly including meals or rounds of golf, I would say a few magic words: “When you are done working for the Congressman, you should come work for me at my firm'”
In a small country like Aotearoa, such engagements are easy: around the golf course, in Koru club, a corporate box for the footy. Our corporate and political leaders are few in number and work cheek by jowl. Plausible deniability is easily conjured - Bank's failure of memory, an assertion of ignorance through processes run by the accountant, or the simple assertion that it is a much-needed pragmatic approach enabling economic growth.

I think our reputation as a remarkably honest country to do business is worth something, not least as an enticement to honest business people and supporting a culture we want our tamariki and rangatahi to grow in to as business operators and employees.

The Prime Ministers backroom deals - Warner Brothers, Sky City casino - may be standard for other political establishments but do they herald a new position for NZ leaders?

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Simon Lambert

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