More thoughts about transparency and corruption


Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Once again, I have cause to be proud of my homeland. New Zealand has finally overtaken Denmark to win the title of least corrupt country in the world, according to the organisation Transparency International.

Of course, I was keen to check out the full list of 180, and I have to tell you, I found some surprises. There was a certain predictability about the bottom placings: Iraq and Venezuela tied at 169, North Korea and Libya at 171, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria ranking 175th, 177th and 178th respectively – which may be a true reflection of life in those countries, or a clear message that it doesn’t pay to rile up Uncle Sam. But I’m not here to debate that point.

Zimbabwe has risen to 157th=, after its armed forces staged a coup to overthrow dictator of 37 years, Robert Mugabe last year. Despite the country’s vast mineral wealth, including gold, diamonds and chromite, 80% of the population falls below the poverty line. Zimbabwe holds the world record for annual inflation, achieving the staggering rate of 89.7 sextillion percent in 2008 (I didn’t know there was such a number – but I learned that it’s 1 followed by 21 zeroes!), although the economic wizards in the military junta have reportedly reduced that to a relatively respectable 348%. So they must be pleased to find themselves climbing up the rankings.

Russia, on the other hand, won’t be proud of their placing at 135, especially since that puts them five spots behind Myanmar, currently making headlines around the world for ethnically cleansing their Muslim Rohingya citizens.

myanmar genocide

At least they’re open about it

“The U.N. special envoy on human rights in Myanmar said Thursday that the Myanmar military’s violent operations against Rohingya Muslims bear “the hallmarks of a genocide.” Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled their villages into Bangladesh since the Myanmar military’s crackdown following Aug. 25 attacks by Rohingya insurgents.” But I guess they’re being quite open about what they’re doing, so it doesn’t really count as corruption.

It’s not surprising, then, that the Maldive Islands, playground of the world’s glitterati, managed a ranking of 112, despite the ongoing state of emergency imposed by President Abdulla Yameen

“Yameen had cited threats to national security after the Supreme Court overturned criminal convictions against nine of his opponents and ordered their release.

He sent the army to storm the Supreme Court building and arrest the island nation’s chief justice and another judge on the top court’s bench. His estranged half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has sided with the opposition, was also arrested. The three remaining judges on the Supreme Court then reversed part of their verdict on the release of Yameen’s opponents.”

At least Turkey managed to beat that lot – though President Erdoğan may feel his country deserves to be a little higher than 81st on the list; especially since China slotted in at 77, and South Africa at 71. Cape Town, as you may know, is currently getting unfavourable publicity, poised to become the first major world city to run out of water – although the crisis seems to be less of a problem for citizens with money.

Cuba was a surprise for me, coming in at 62, and Cyprus managed a commendable 42, my favourite number – though of course that’s “Greek” Cyprus, and needless to say, the Turkish enclave didn’t get a mention.

tax havens 2

And check their TI rankings!

By the time I’d got up to the 30s, my cynicism was starting to really kick in . . . so when I saw Costa Rica, tax-haven for the world’s mega-rich at No. 38, I wasn’t too surprised. Still, who’d have expected to see Botswana up there at 34, just behind Israel at 32, whose government has for years been ignoring UN requests to stop massacring Palestinians and invading their lands? Still, they’re pretty up-front about that too.

Which brought me to the 20s – and there was/were the United Arab Emirates, up with the elite of the world’s squeaky-clean at No 21!

“The UAE is the most densely migrant-populated country in the world. About 90 percent of the UAE’s 9 million people are foreign-born, most working on temporary employment contracts in a range of white-collar, blue-collar and service industry jobs. Only a handful of migrants have been granted citizenship since the country gained independence in 1971. Amnesty International and other humanitarian agencies have put a spotlight on the hardships migrant workers have faced, including exploitation of construction workers and unequal protection of women and domestic workers.”

Soooo . . . What do you make of all that? At the very least, you’d want to take a closer look at the criteria those “Transparency” people are using to make their assessments.

New Zealand was awarded No 1 spot, in spite of the following well-publicised facts:

  • * “Hundreds of drivers have had their licenses cancelled after a fraudulent licensing scam was uncovered; revealing [Ministry of Transport] staff had accepted bribes of up to $600 in exchange for a licence.”
  • A new plan has been put forward for the America’s Cup bases in Auckland by a company owned by some of the country’s richest businessmen who own 20 hectares of land at Wynyard Quarter and the Viaduct Harbour.” Some less wealthy citizens believe the plan will further develop Auckland’s downtown as an exclusive playground for the super-rich. I’ll be following that one with interest.
  • “Immigration NZ has completed an investigation [but not releasing their findings] into whether Kim Dotcom can be deported from New Zealand for failing to declare a dangerous driving conviction – but it’s refusing to say what the outcome is.

[Dotcom] entered the country on a special scheme intended to attract wealthy foreigners, giving three-years residency and a fast-track to citizenship to those who invested $10 million or more in New Zealand.

Documents obtained by the Herald through the Official Information Act showed NZSIS staff tried to block the residency application but dropped its objection after being told there was “political pressure” to let the tycoon into New Zealand.

At the time, the new residency scheme was having little success and – documents show – [Immigration Minister] Coleman was eager to get “high rollers” into the country.”

banks dotcom

ex-mayor Banks, Kim Dotcom and former PM John Key

Dotcom, as you may know, made wagonloads of money from various online businesses including his file-sharing website, Megaupload, arousing the ire of powerful figures in the United States. The US government then pressured their NZ counterparts to have him extradited, despite the fact that he is a citizen of Germany. Although known to have criminal convictions in Hong Kong and Germany, and to have served prison time in his own country, Dotcom was granted fast track residence in New Zealand in 2010. At the time of his application, he made several substantial “charitable” donations, one of which was a $50,000 contribution to the election campaign of former Auckland Mayor and Member of Parliament, John Banks.

Mr Banks faced criminal charges as a result, but claimed not to remember Dotcom’s financial assistance. Nevertheless, he was convicted in 2014 of filing a false electoral return. The conviction was subsequently overturned after Banks brought a witness from the USA to support his story (of amnesia?). However, it seems his righteous indignation went a little too far when he sought to get $190,000 legal costs awarded against Dotcom. In a recent Court of Appeal decision, the judge ruled that, although the original conviction had been reversed on a legal technicality, the court had stopped short of declaring Banks innocent – so no payment of costs was justifiable. Incidentally, after arriving in New Zealand, Dotcom had taken out a lease on one of the country’s most expensive houses, by coincidence no doubt, in the electorate of John Key, NZ’s Prime Minister at the time, and leader of the government which included John Banks.

  • The latest scandal rocking New Zealand’s ruling elite involves the venerable law firm, Russell McVeagh, among the country’s largest and most reputable. After some prevaricating, the partners have admitted that there had been shenanigans in the past involving some of their colleagues and young summer interns from the University of Auckland Law Faculty. There has been talk of interns selected for their physical attributes, required to sign confidentiality agreements, and engaging in sex acts on the boardroom table.

Complaints had apparently been laid by Auckland University on behalf of some of the students concerned, none of whom, however, want their names to be known for fear of retribution from their powerful assailants. Nothing corrupt about all that, of course. The interns were, after all, willing participants, I guess.

Nevertheless, it does make you wonder about Transparency International, and how they go about comparing and assessing levels of transparency and corruption in those 180 countries.

The TI organisation was apparently founded in Germany in 1993 by an interesting coterie of high-flyers including a former director of the World Bank, a lawyer for General Electric, a member of the US military intelligence establishment, and several high-ups in corporate banking and industry (Source: Wikipedia).

In spite of being clearly dependent on information from whistle-blowers, TI recently specifically refused support for Edward Snowden, one of the key informants for WikiLeaks. There has also been some discomfort expressed over how TI can maintain objectivity when it accepts large donations from large corporations (such as the $3 million paid over by Siemens Corp in 2008). The American chapter of Transparency International, TI-USA, was censured by its parent body after presenting Hilary Clinton with its Integrity Award in 2012. There has also apparently been some conflict with the TI people in New Zealand, though I haven’t been able to learn the exact details.

Well, ok, maybe the central powers at TI do seek to supervise the moral integrity of their branches abroad – but I read of another case involving a TI employee, Anna Buzzoni, having to leave the organisation after blowing the whistle on “questionable financial dealings” at TI’s Water Integrity Network.


Settled out of court in a case accusing them of deceiving investors and contributing to the 2008 world financial crisis

Who can you trust these days?

Certainly not the rankings provided by the world’s major credit rating agencies. The latest list published by Standard and Poors assesses New Zealand, with no manufacturing industry to speak of, and a tiny population, as AA,  a “High Grade” investment; and Turkey, with its booming economy and large manufacturing sector, as BB, “non-investment grade, speculative”. Still, maybe you’re better off not getting a good grade from those crooks:

In the spring of 2013, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s settled two “long-running” lawsuits “seeking to hold them responsible for misleading investors about the safety of risky debt vehicles that they had rated”. The suits were filed in 2008 and had sought more than $700 million of damages. Settlement terms were not disclosed in both cases, and the lawsuits were dismissed “with prejudice”, meaning they cannot be brought again.

In the end, S&P settled for $1.5 billion – possibly feeling it was worth the money to avoid further negative publicity. Now it seems they are back dispensing credit ratings, and investors are happy to trust them again. Really?


2 thoughts on “More thoughts about transparency and corruption

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