Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Corruption -a structural and process problem

I am not sure just what is in the water on the Central Coast, but the NSW ICAC (Independent Commission against Corruption) inquiry into illegal donations is progressively engulfing the Liberal Party. This is an example of the most recent coverage:
That should be enough to give you a feel. Now in all this, the focus is on breach of the law and the legislative tightening required to remedy that breach. However, to my mind, all this misses a key point.

I don’t have a special problem with anybody giving donations to a political party from whatever source. I don’t have a special problem when donations are expected to affect general policy stances whether this be the environment (the Greens), union rights (Labor), lower taxes and less regulation (the Liberals) or protection for farmers (the Nationals). All politics and parties involve special interests.

Where my problem comes in when there is an expectation that those donations will affect decision processes in hidden ways.

Let me define hidden. I don’t mean instantaneous transparency, I actually think that Governments need more decision secrecy, not less. I think that they need the capacity to wheel and deal. Rather, that the processes will be internally transparent and documented in the first instance, externally transparent at a later point. This was the key point of the NSW Labor corruption scandal. Those internal processes were distorted. There was neither internal transparency nor documentation for later record.

That’s where the problem came in. It’s not really a legal problem. It’s a structural and process problem. The law just complicates.


ABC Radio National carried an interview with Ian Dickson, the former ethics adviser to members of the NSW Parliament. The interview is described in this way:
For 15 years, Ian Dickson served as the part-time Ethics Adviser to members of the New South Wales Parliament. He retired in December 2013, frustrated that the law severely limited his role. He could only counsel MPs on ethics -- including the controversial relationships with lobbyists -- if they approached him. Now, as Ian Dickson reflects on the lobbying and political fundraising scandals being revealed in the state's Independent Commission Against Corruption, he has called for the Adviser's role to be strengthened, dramatically, to an Ethics Commissioner, with broad investigative powers. He speaks with Andrew West.
As I listened, my main reaction was the thought that if the rules don't work, the response seems to be to tighten the rules. At one point in my life, I was a monitor in what was predominantly a boarding school. Part of my job was to enforce the rules. Who would have thought that that long lost experience would suddenly resonate!  


Evan said...

Complete agreement from me.

Anonymous said...

"It's not really a legal problem"

That much is quite obvious from the marked lack of follow-up prosecution arising from all this titivating "nod, wink-ery" that is playing out, at our expense, but with little return.

Seriously, I am losing interest in the ICAC process. The punchline seems to be that while we all know it's happening, and we all abhor the finding out of same, there really are no laws available to prosecute the 'offenders' - because, actually, they aren't 'offending'. They're just a group of wide boys who know how to play the system against itself, and the public.

And the greatest sin they seem to have been accused of is that they were sometimes careless, and thus found out - like the schoolboys behind the shed with a packet of fags - but nothing more.

And meanwhile the open-cut mine that is NSW continues on being strip mined by various unprosecuted but well indentified 'persons of interest'. But no, never, nothing more.

Spare me the impotent moralising about 'process' and 'transparancy'. Been there, done that. Where's the heads on pikes?


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim, you might think this unrelated (much less why it got "Breaking News" status on the SMH website):

- but have a look at the redtapery, the sheer quango-troughing involved in what should be a simple case of "see a need, get it done". Now that's what I call a structural and process problem.

Made me spit in my cornflakes :)


Jim Belshaw said...

I feel sorry for the cornflakes, kvd! Should we bring back the NCDC? I obviously agree with your broad point.

I suppose in simple terms, where money is involved, the more rules we have the greater the incentive to break them The same actually applies to restrictions on personal freedoms that have made us all lawbreakers.

Since the big stick, more rules approach clearly hasn't worked, simplification seems the only way to go even if it means some corruption. More precisely, there will be some corruption whatever the system.