NZ ‘slide down anti-corruption ranking’?

Yesterday Hamish Rutherford at Stuff reported NZ’s anti-corruption record slipping: watchdog.

New Zealand is slipping down the ranks of the least corrupt countries, with watchdog Transparency International accusing the Government of “astonishing” complacency.

After topping the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for seven years in a row until 2013, the 2015 survey ranked New Zealand behind Denmark, Finland and Sweden. In 2014 New Zealand was ranked second, behind Denmark.

The survey draws scores from a range of other surveys to give an overall rating of the perceptions about corruption for 167 countries. In 2015 New Zealand scored 88, a marked fall from the 91 it scored in 2014.

Care should be taken reading too much in to minor changes in ratings and rankings on what are a collation of “perceptions of public sector corruption” with margins of error in the data analysis.

There was also an Opinion piece by Rutherford: Slide down anti-corruption ranking should be a wake up call.

While being ranked fourth out of 167 nations in the annual corruption perceptions index might sound impressive in isolation, it is hardly the gold standard, or what it used to be. New Zealand was ranked top of the index year after year until 2013.

Being among the least corrupt nations does not quite have the same ring to it. Nearly as good as the best. There, or thereabouts.

Those who have seen first hand the abuse of the law protecting our right to information might take some cold satisfaction from the slow slide in the rankings, or at least will not be surprised by it.

And Labour leader Andrew Little has picked up on this. NZ loses squeaky clean corruption-free reputation:

A second consecutive drop in a global transparency index busts the notion that New Zealand would remain corruption-free, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says.

“It is an indictment on the Government that we are now lagging behind several other countries.”

“New Zealand’s highly-regarded international reputation for fair dealing has been eroded. It is shameful that the standards of transparency under John Key’s leadership have slipped so far,” Andrew Little says.

So how big has the ‘slide’ been? From first to second and now to fourth out of 167 countries, and from a rating of 91 to 88.

But this is a ‘perception of corruption’ and Graeme Edgeler points out that the drop could be due to:

Have looked at the methodology and data underpinning the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index to see why New Zealand fell.

It is because the “global business executives” who respond to surveys for the IMD World Competitiveness Center answered the question:

“Bribing and corruption: Exist or do not exist”

on a scale of 1-6 ever so slightly different last year than in 2014.

Limiting freedom of information? Search warrants on journalists? Environmental governance? That made no difference whatsoever.

Instead, it was that one question, where probably one or two NZ CEOs changed a 6 to a 5 this year, because who knows why.

Now Rutherford and Little may have raised valid points about concerns about corruption in New Zealand, but this survey hardly signifies a ‘slide’. It is more like a minor tweak.

Edgeler also tweeted:

Last year we had a better rating than in 2012. It’s just others had improved more.

More importantly, however, it’s not a corruption rating, but a perception of corruption rating. If the government was to crack down on corruption, the perception of it would increase and we’d do worse.


I’m not saying it’s a good thing, it’s just one of many stupid things about coverage of the index and the index itself.

My point is that these indexes are generally stupid, and nobody should read anything into changes in them.

Fair point. The survey may be of minor curiosity value but an attempt at measuring perceptions and opinions with a very small sample related to New Zealand there must be a significant margin of error.

Edgeler continued on Twitter:

I started a post. Lost it, and probably can’t be bothered starting over, so I’ll do a short tweet summary instead.

TI doesn’t do it’s own research for this any more. They use data from questions around corruption in other’s surveys. Ten surveys overall, but not all cover all countries (eg the African Development Bank Governance Survey).

Data from seven of the surveys is relevant to New Zealand. In three of those surveys, our result is unchanged. In three of those surveys, our scores increase.

Only in one of those surveys does New Zealand drop.

I tweeted the single relevant question from that survey earlier. 6100 self-selected executives around the world responded to that survey.

If New Zealand had it’s fair share of executives in that 6100, that’s about five people. One of them choosing a 5 on a scale of 1 to 6 on one question is the sole reason we’ve dropped in TI’s ranking.

Sorry, that’s drops in two indexes 🙂

3 unchanged + 3 increases + 2 drops <> 7 surveys so not sure what other number changes.

Bryce Edwards:

The score of 88 is the average of the seven independent assessments figures of 92, 93, 81, 83, 98, 88, 83.

Averaging 7 assessments assumes they have equal weighting. I presume they are not of equal input.


Now compare them to the numbers from the previous year.

These numbers are all in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2015.

Their press release is brief, doesn’t mention New Zealand and lacks details. It just says “the Corruption Perceptions Index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption”.

Their “Short Methodology”:


In Frequently Asked Questions they say:




So the CPI is an ‘indicator of perceptions of public sector corruption’ and ‘not a verdict on the levels of corruption of entire nations or societies’.

From Technical Methodology:

Each Country’s CPI score is calculated as a simple average of the available rescaled scores.

The CPI score will be reported alongside a standard error and 90% confidence interval which reflects the variance in the value of the source  data that comprises the CPI score.


The seven sources for each of the top five countries were the same.

With tight results plus Standard Deviation and Standard Error on perceptions of public service corruption I think you need to be cautious about reading too much into slight changes in ranking.



NZ maintains high score in corruption index

Transparency International has released the 2014 Corruption Perception Index. New Zealand drops from first to second place but maintains it’s 2013 score of 91. It was 90 in 2012. Denmark increased from 91 to 92 which put it just ahead on ranking.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country or territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). A country or territory’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories in the index.

Top twenty:

RANK COUNTRY 2014 2013 2012
1 Denmark 92 91 90
2 New Zealand 91 91 90
3 Finland 89 89 90
4 Sweden 87 89 88
5 Norway 86 86 85
5 Switzerland 86 85 86
7 Singapore 84 86 87
8 Netherlands 83 83 84
9 Luxembourg 82 80 80
10 Canada 81 81 84
11 Australia 80 81 85
12 Germany 79 78 79
12 Iceland 79 78 82
14 United Kingdom 78 76 74
15 Belgium 76 75 75
15 Japan 76 74 74
17 Barbados 74 75 76
17 Hong Kong 74 75 77
17 Ireland 74 72 69
17 United States 74 73 73

That’s a very good result, but it isn’t being reported like that. Firstline started their item just now saying we had dropped, and it was introduced as saying ‘plummeted’ – not sure if it was tongue in cheek or not. And an expert commentator corrected the perception.

A misleading NZ Herald headline: Politics: Is NZ becoming more corrupt?

New Zealand has been knocked off its perch as the least corrupt country on earth, slipping to number two on the just-announced Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. So does this mean we’re becoming more corrupt?

And, with so many corruption stories and allegations in the media and politics over the last year, shouldn’t we have expected our ranking to drop further than just one place? Why hasn’t Dirty Politics translated into an international ‘telling off’ for New Zealand?

Should New Zealand have fallen further?

The first thing to note about the New Zealand’s drop in the corruption index is that the raw score for the country remains the same: 91 out of 100. By contrast Denmark has increased its score to 92, which explains the loss of the number one ranking. Therefore this is hardly bad news for New Zealand’s reputation.

Despite Edwards and the Herald portraying it as bad news.

And 3 News reports: Don’t take NZ’s corruption rating for granted – Labour

We might be seen as one of the least corrupt countries, but it’s important not to become complacent, Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern says.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index released on Wednesday ranked New Zealand second for least perceived corruption in the public sector, beaten out only by Denmark.

It’s the first time since 2006 New Zealand’s been knocked off its first-place post which it shared last year with Denmark.

Ms Ardern says in a year of reports into unsavoury political and public activity, the drop in placings should give everyone pause to think.

“Today’s report shows we cannot take anything for granted if we want to maintain our hard fought for reputation.

“Good governance, transparency and vigilance in the face of a changing globalised environment are all key if we are to maintain a well-functioning democracy.”

My headline for that item would be “NZ maintains high corruption score but Labour still grizzles”.

Tacked on the end of the article:

Justice Minister Amy Adams said New Zealand’s public sector is internationally renowned for low levels of corruption and noted a number of anti-corruption initiatives had been passed by the Government this year.

But that doesn’t make a good headline.

Back to Edwards in the Herald.

Why are allegations of corruption increasing?

A caution about the perceptions of increased corruption in New Zealand also needs to be made. Just because there are many more media stories and allegations of corruption made by politicians, this doesn’t actually mean that New Zealand is becoming more corrupt.

While the media promote stories about allegations of corruption it “doesn’t actually mean that New Zealand is becoming more corrupt”, it just means media is getting more dramatic and less accurate.

And we should take allegations about corruption from various politicians with even more caution. Such allegations are the new weapon of electioneering. In a period when policy is less important or divergent in New Zealand politics, it is now issues of integrity that have become the main battleground for the political parties. They can often score easy hits against opponents by impugning their reputations.

Again the most pertinent commentary was relegated to the end of the article, well below the misleading headlines.

Media are often willing participants in promoting “allegations about corruption from various politicians” without providing sufficient examination of the validity of the claims.

They are often pawns of attack politicians. Is there a corruption index for media?