Back to training for New Zealand as Denmark takes out integrity gold

Like most Kiwis, I like gold. I like it when we win and I remember our winners.

Index resultsWhen our super-shooter Sally Johnston brought home a Commonwealth Games gold medal, it felt good to see her glowing in the golden aura of international accolades.

Today, Transparency International announced that New Zealand had placed second on the 2014 Anti-Corruption Perceptions index, displacing us from the first or first-equal spot we have held on the integrity podium since 2006. Still shiny, still valuable – just not gold. There’s just one point between first and second – but I couldn’t tell you who was runner-up to Sally.

Being second to Denmark isn’t a disgrace by any means and, to be fair, they’ve been working hard for the title in the last few years. A solid integrity performer, Denmark has matched us at first-equal for several years, and we’re both still well ahead of many of the 175 counties assessed by the index.

Should we care? The message from this Office is clear – yes. We really should. Internationally, many see integrity as a marginal and old-fashioned sport in which only a few countries (like New Zealand and Denmark) are interested enough to field teams. A bit like rugby and cricket, integrity is one aspect that characterises us as a people and it’s embedded in our identity – although perhaps less consciously than we realise. Who remembers verses two and four of our national anthem, which remind us to guard our state from corruption and our spotless name from dishonour and shame?

The Auditor-General has a strong message about integrity – whether we’re number one or in second place – we need to work hard and be vigilant, as people, and as a public sector to maintain New Zealand’s good and strong record. In 2011, the Auditor-General published a series of reports on Keeping fraud at bay. We said that our general absence of systemic large-scale corruption in both the private and public sectors is attributed to the integrity of our system. And it’s underpinned by strong and shared common values within a small and cohesive society.

The index is not just about what we as a country do what others do matters as well. Denmark is proactive, recently announcing plans to create a public register including beneficial ownership information for all companies incorporated in Denmark. Transparency International says this will make it harder for the corrupt to hide behind companies registered in another person’s name.

New Zealand has much in common with Denmark, including strong rule of law, support for civil society and clear rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions. The New Zealand chapter of Transparency International considers that our failure to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption counted against us this year.

But integrity is like a diamond (which, incidentally, looks very good with gold). It’s rare hard to get. And diamonds sparkle multifaceted light in every direction. There are many facets to integrity and much that we can all do to strengthen our integrity. It’s not just about signing conventions, it’s about living values. And that’s something we all have a responsibility to do.

So Denmark wins this round. Congratulations to them – they’ve earned it. But integrity is an endurance sport and we should be in there for the long haul.

We can take a lesson from Sally Johnston. She won bronze at her first Commonwealth Games appearance in 1998. And she kept training and competing at top level to bring home Commonwealth gold in 2014. It's the same for us. You don’t quit when it comes to something as important as this.

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