TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL INVISIBLE IN NEW ZEALAND
In a 9 square metre closet next to the elevator shaft on the fourth floor of a former department store in Wellington resides an eight year old 'autonomous chapter' of the Berlin based Transparency International. The office is so obscure that a kiwisfirst staffer searching for the office in November resorted to asking a Courier delivering a package on the same floor where it was. The Courier had no clue. The closet office was finally found but no one was home. The only identification was a A4 letterhead stationary folded in half and taped to the locked red door. A business card was left on the door with a request to call, but no return call came.
The "Deputy Chairwoman" of TINZ, Claire Johnstone, is a principal in a consulting company called Sinclair Robertson Associates. SRA's website brags "We deliver strategic development services for a variety of clients, ranging from iwi groups to central and local government, not-for-profit organizations and small to medium sized enterprise. We have particular expertise in analyzing and presenting an organisation's business case. This has allowed us to raise equity or access grant funding from government for many of our clients."
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TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL NEW ZEALAND ORDERS ARREST OF ANTI-CORRUPTION ADVOCATE
In a stinging irony - on United Nations International Anti-Corruption Day no less - Chairman Gerald McGhie of Transparency International's "autonomous" New Zealand chapter ordered Police to arrest public watchdog Penny Bright for trespassing at its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday. This was despite the government-funded group riding her coat-tails as a watchdog front ostensibly focused on increasing transparency and exposing corruption. Attendees were given pamphlets with the bold heading "CORRUPTION RUINS LIVES - FIGHT BACK". Once inside, the local chapter's newsletter on the information table lauded Ms Bright as an "Anti-corruption campaigner".
Bright is due to appear at Wellington District Court on the criminal charge Monday.
Despite Transparency International New Zealand's website encouraging new memberships and guests to attend the AGM, which featured Attorney General Chris Finlayson as speaker, at least five applications for membership were declined and five others were turned away from the meeting. Only 20-25 people did attend. The drama was caught on film by a TV cameraman, including the small protest against the organisation conducted outside the high rise office building.
Ms Bright paid $56 to join the non-profit organisation earlier this month and had travelled down from Auckland to Wellington to attend the AGM at the law offices of Minter Ellison Rudd Watts. CEO Paul Browne met her at the door and announced "You are not welcome (here) Ms Bright". Ms Bright was one of six who initially did not accept this polite rejection.
Ms Bright has been critical this year of Transparency International New Zealand as a "perpetrator of the myth" that New Zealand has low corruption. She has recently alleged the closed-shop and secretive nature of the not-for-profit organisation goes against every principle it supposedly stands for. While her membership was not declined, she asserts that those who have been declined were not given reasons for such declination - and that this failure directly conflicts with TINZ's membership application which states reasons will be provided where an application is declined.
Ms Bright, a self-funded public watchdog who operates on a shoe-string budget, has repeatedly asked TINZ for information as to its financial funding, expenditures and meeting minutes. The response has been silence.
Kiwisfirst has surreptitiously obtained TINZ's 2009 financials, which seem to raise suspicions about their stiff-arm to requests for this information. $544,446 of their 2009 revenue came from an auspicious NZAID grant, while only $5,791 came from membership subscriptions. It appears that TINZ has no employees. Office rent for 2009 was only $3,118. Meanwhile, there are some seemingly un-transparent and rather large expenditures of $281,820 for "core funding", $75,778 for "civics education" and $40,655 for "peer learning network".
As reported earlier this year by kiwisfirst, Transparency International New Zealand's Board of Directors seems comprised of feather-nesting bureaucrats with fingers in businesses that benefit from covering-up corruption. That type of deception might be arguably innocuous if the organisation was not overtly presenting itself to the unsuspecting public as the corruption police - and receiving government aid and preferred tax status as a result. To "raise awareness of corruption" is publicly touted as the Berlin-based parent Transparency International's primary goal. But, it is safe to say, the reality is quite the opposite within the New Zealand chapter. Last month TINZ popped its head up briefly to herald the fact that New Zealand was rated best among the 180 countries surveyed in TI's "Corruption Perception Index" but is itself transparent when it comes to raising actual awareness of corruption in New Zealand.
Add to this the appearance that the local chapter seems rife with conflicts and lacks any diversity. Deputy Chairwoman Claire Johnstone alone works as General Manager Corporate for the New Zealand Governement Ministry of Transport and is also principle of a consulting company (Sinclair Robertson Associates) which boasts success in getting its private sector clients government funding. At the AGM, her husband, NZ Police Constable Ash Johnstone, was running security.
To the public, TINZ lists as " Goal 1" of its workplan "Greater Accountability and Transparency in New Zealand". Yet, CEO Browne admitted in a phone interview earlier this year that TINZ was not generally focused on reducing corruption in New Zealand because it was "perceived" not to exist. When asked to identify an initiative coming from TINZ to promote transparency or expose corruption within New Zealand, he refused to answer on the professed basis TINZ was more effective working within quiet diplomatic channels. Instead, he bragged ethereally about the good works the local chapter was doing among the smaller Pacific islands in furthering transparency and reducing corruption. BACK TO FRONT PAGE
27 January 2010 - From Penny Bright: Latest developments from the (not so) transparent people.The THOT PLICKENS! FAR OUT! How 'transparent' is TINZ??? hmmmm....not very!How come Board members could make a decision on my request to attend the TINZ AGM - but not my membership application???Did we ever get a copy of the minutes of the TINZ Board mtg on 23 November 2009? DUH???Seems we have affected a 'rule change;' regarding the inclusion of membershoip fees at the time of membership application!!(You don't have to send in membership fees at the same time now :)
Subject: TI(NZ) membership request/ personal information request
To: Penny Bright <firstname.lastname@example.org