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Thomas Wynne: Voters hold the key to combating corruption

Saturday 10 February 2024 | Written by Thomas Tarurongo Wynne | Published in Editorials, Opinion

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Thomas Wynne: Voters hold  the key to  combating corruption

The misuse of public money and abuse of power stems from our collective failure to hold officials accountable and demand transparency, writes Thomas Tarurongo Wynne.

Proverbs 29:12 says, “If a ruler listens to falsehood, all his officials will be wicked.” Or those who have a position of authority who are dishonest, invite others with corrupt ambitions to join them.

Corruption or the misuse of public money, which is money earned by the taxpayer and deducted by government, is misused for personal gain or profit. But let us be clear, this is an issue ultimately for the voter and not the government official, because it is us the voter that votes public officials in, and we the voters that empower them and enable them to act as they do, by not holding them to account or to develop robust legislation to protect them and our hard-earned monies. Clearly there are gaps and clearly once again we have accountability, procedural and transparency challenges.

Because the responsibility of what happens to public money and property ultimately lies with us, to ensure that they do their job with integrity, or we have the power at each election to vote them out. When government officials and government ministers get caught, we as citizens, also get caught having to think again at what we expect, what we look for and how we hold to account those we put into positions of power to manage the affairs of our families, businesses, lands, traditional titles, and government.

When they stand trial, it is our whole of government that stands trial, its processes, its mechanisms of accountability, and its overall effectiveness. It is in this crucible of public scrutiny that our choices, our voting power, and our decision-making are held accountable, revealing the true power we hold to shape our government.

Having worked in several Ministers Offices here in Aotearoa, it was clear to me from the outset that the level of scrutiny was high as were the expectations. All Cabinet papers were proactively released to the public at the end of each month, and my role was to see them before they went out. All accounts and spending and all reports from government agencies were public released, so public scrutiny was well understood as nothing was secret or to be found out later if at all. Government trips and spending by Ministers and officials was publicly released and the reasons for trips and the value back to the country also made public.

This level of scrutiny was not just so the public could scruitinise it and hold Ministers and heads of ministry to account, but more importantly to protect them from potential decisions or the temptation to spend where they shouldn’t or to do something outside what was allowed, what was permitted and what would not meet public scrutiny. We were always acutely aware, this was public money, spent by public servants on public time.

During my interview, I remember getting a purchase expense card and reading through the rules when it could be used. At the end of the interview, I said to Ministerial services, “I can’t really use this except in an emergency”.  “Yes,” they said “only in an emergency”. One time, at a meeting, I realised I had left my personal card at home. I used my expense card to pay for two coffees. The next day, I received a “please explain email” from Ministerial services. I then had a meeting where I had to explain my actions and was shown how to reimburse that money back again.

That gave me a real sense of working with integrity. We travelled economy, sometimes flying into events and staying only the necessary nights. Per diems, a daily allowance for expenses, had been eliminated, with all travel costs covered by the budget for the trip. Everything had layers of scrutiny, layers of what was in the public good and layers of eyes across it with us all knowing at the end of each month the public and opposition would see it all.

The misuse of public money and abuse of power and decision making, be it Ministers in Cabinet, heads of government ministries, government officials or government boards, happens because we allow it. Be it businesses, sport codes, churches, state owned enterprises, boards or family titles and land, public scrutiny and transparency of decision making, and accountability protects us all and the assets we entrust others to look after. That power has always been in our hands, what we do with that, and who we entrust that with is entirely up to us.

Comments

Te Tuhi Kelly on 10/02/2024

Many of us have commented on this. The more change is advocated the more it stays the same. The voters don't care as evidenced by the people they vote as MP's. All voters are interested in is what they can get into their kopu's be it kaikai, chickens, hand outs, bribes and all manner of incentives. What went before is conveniently forgotten in the scramble to get over the line. Forgiveness is paramount and thus all the hand wringing and posturing such as articles like this will not matter a whit. The reality is that the needy, seedy and greedy will carry on as before and the village favourite will get voted in and those who can and will make a difference for our country will be ignored as of no consequence.

graham roper on 10/02/2024

I have made comments before regarding mis spending within the TMO by the SOH and Minister. At what point do the locals say enough is enough and demand the health care money is spent on Health needs , prevention and those providing the services. The latest news regarding “leading cause of death “ is a message that can be and should be addressed immediately. The budget is available if applied as it should be rather than useless overseas trips and “trough feeding “