Slide down anti-corruption ranking should be a wake up call
Last updated 18:03, January 27 2016
Prime Minister John Key has admitted the Government routinely delays releasing Official Information Act releases as long as it can to suit it politically.
OPINION: New Zealand has long dined out on its reputation for transparency and lack of corruption, so Wednesday's further slip down the Transparency International rankings should act as a wake up call.
While being ranked fourth out of 167 nations in the annual corruption perceptions index might sound impressive in isolation, it is hardly the gold standard, or what it used to be. New Zealand was ranked top of the index year after year until 2013.
Being among the least corrupt nations does not quite have the same ring to it. Nearly as good as the best. There, or thereabouts.
Those who have seen first hand the abuse of the law protecting our right to information might take some cold satisfaction from the slow slide in the rankings, or at least will not be surprised by it.
* NZ's anti-corruption record slipping: watchdog
New Zealand's processes for forcing government departments to release official documents is not fit for purpose, and is routinely exploited as such.
The Ombudsman - something of a policeman for Official Information Act complaints - is largely ineffectual. Complaints to the office can take years to resolve, making the process somewhat pointless in a digital age.
The Government has also involved itself in a series of controversies of its own making which must surely damage our reputation, from the sloppy handling of the SkyCity convention centre deal, the Oravida controversy and the Saudi sheep deal.
Time after time Government ministers have acted in ways which appear to fail to meet the standards of probity which New Zealand would like to claim apply here.
Whether or not New Zealand is any more corrupt than it was in 2013 when it topped the Transparency International survey is not at all clear, but the fact is perceptions matter. As Transparency International's Suzanne Snively says, a "adversarial defensiveness" about releasing information creates suspicion.
Besides making us feel good about ourselves, New Zealand's reputation for openness and integrity have an impact on whether businesses want to set up shop here, or skilled migrants want to come to live here.
A good reputation helps the economy, which is especially important given New Zealand's relative size and distance from its major markets.
Given National's focus on the economy, one might think that another drop down the international rankings would strike a raw nerve.
Unless, that is, National was more concerned about protecting its own reputation at home than New Zealand's international standing.