Last year, I heard a disturbing story of corruption from a building site.

An Auckland Council building inspector was on the site of a new home build on Auckland’s North Shore. A new New Zealander was the developer, and the entire build team comprised immigrant labour.

After completing his inspection of the steel and concrete foundations, the building inspector left the site. Twenty minutes later, he realised that he had left his iPad at the previous building site.

When he returned to pick it up, he discovered that the steel foundations were being lifted out before the concrete truck arrived.

The idea being that the same steel could be used in the next set of foundations, and so on.

Corruption Isn’t A Kiwi Value

There’s been a lot of talk about our Kiwi values during the last week.

I’ve heard words and phrases like kindness, a sense of humour, religious freedom and gender equality. There’s even been suggestions that the ability to name the All Blacks, drink beer, and make a pavlova should be included in the makeup of our critical values set.

But we possess a value at least as important as some of those above, and we take it for granted.

This particular value ranks high in the way the great majority of New Zealanders conduct their lives, and we rank high internationally for it.

And yet, “it” is something we’re not. We are not particularly corrupt.

In fact, we are a low corruption country. The global anti-corruption coalition, Transparency International, ranks NZ number one out of 180 countries as the least corrupt country.

That’s something we should be incredibly proud of. It’s also something that we should strive to maintain. However, maintaining such a standard is a challenge, particularly when we are seeking to ‘import’ workers to support our growing economy.

As we bring in people from other countries, we also risk importing the cultures and behaviours that are common in those countries.

Corruption Definition – Guilty of Dishonest Practices

Corruption is variously described as being guilty of dishonest practices, or lacking integrity or taking bribes. Again, in referring to Transparency International they define corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.

The scale of corruption will depend on the size of the fraud, the seniority of those involved and how ingrained it becomes. Corruption comes in many forms.

On one hand, it may be a simple tourist swindle which sees a visitor tricked into buying a fake souvenir for four times its real value. At the other extreme corruption might feature a politician exchanging massive favours in return for even more massive financial benefits.

We all know that corruption is rife in many economies. It is often simply accepted as “the way things are done”. At its worst, corruption ruins entire countries.

Think Zimbabwe or more recently Venezuela. Being corruption free or more likely close to corruption free, is a good thing to lead the world in.

Say “No” To Corruption

The world continues to globalise and New Zealand’s challenge is to maintain a set of values that don’t condone or support corruption.

As we continue to bring immigrants into New Zealand, we need to acknowledge that some of those people are used to a way of life where corruption is rife. Somehow, we need to teach those people that such practices are not acceptable here.

The great majority of New Zealanders are honest people with a level of integrity that suggests that we are trustworthy, and that we will do what’s right.

Sure, we have a few rat-bags, but who doesn’t. But having listened to and read many of the various commentaries about our values over the last week, my own view is that this one value, that most of us take for granted, should be near the top of the list.

When it comes to the values that we should seek in the people who move to our country, I would rank being ‘corruption – free’ at the top of that list.

The Least Corrupt Nation

Being the least corrupt gives us a standing in the economic world that we should wear proudly.

It means –

  • our trading partners can trust us;
  • we will deliver what we promise;
  • there is no unnecessary middle man accepting bribes or artificially pumping up prices or profits;
  • that all people will be treated fairly.

If we can maintain a society that is as close as possible to being corruption free, then that in turn will continue to provide the very sound foundation that supports the broader values set that is representative of being a New Zealander. Things like freedom, equality, fairness and fun.


Being the least corrupt nation has economic value, and it reflects kiwi values that are at the heart of kiwi pride. Let’s go back to that building site. If we can’t stamp out that type of behaviour, it might just lead to our next “leaky building” saga. Except this time they won’t leak, they’ll fall over.

And so will we.

Did you enjoy this article? Remember to check out Bruce’s latest bookThe Best Leaders Don’t Shout”.