We must be honest

We are expected to act honestly.

This obligation is not only work-related. It arises at any time when the consequences of dishonest conduct may have an impact on public trust or on the confidence that Ministers, Parliament, or others in the State Services, can have in our organisation.

The principle of honesty underpins the obligations of all of us in the State Services. Public trust in the State Services will be determined primarily by the degree to which New Zealanders believe that at all times we act with honesty. We are expected to respond to what we believe to be true, and to act always with a focus on accuracy and authenticity.

Honesty does not necessarily mean continuous, full disclosure. In some circumstances, full disclosure is a requirement. Other circumstances may require care. For example, the courts have recognised that organisations with responsibility to enforce legislation cannot be required to openly disclose their evidence-gathering activities. It is sometimes necessary to disguise the way these activities are carried out. But these circumstances are rare. Unless there is a lawful reason for doing so, we must not act on the premise that the end justifies the means.

Honesty is frequently associated with professional courage. We must not act with guile for administrative convenience or to conform to political arrangements. We must not deceive or knowingly mislead. Being honest requires us to set out facts and relevant issues truthfully and to correct any errors as soon as possible. We must be careful about providing only some of the facts about an issue if we anticipate that we may encourage misunderstanding. Providing only half the facts may mean we are telling only half the truth.

Honesty means that we are truthful and open.

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We must work to the best of our abilities

Working to the best of our abilities is a way of demonstrating our spirit of service. We have respect for the taxpayers who fund our employment, and we are committed to working diligently in return.

We recognise that it is important for the people of New Zealand to be aware of the work we carry out on their behalf, and that they trust us to act always in the public interest. We appreciate that properly documenting our decisions and actions is part of promoting public understanding and maintaining community confidence. It is important that we keep accurate records that can be readily accessed. This enables us to let the public know what we do and how decisions and outcomes have been reached. Ombudsmen have commented that ... "the ability to communicate and explain is often dependent on the quality and accessibility of records of a citizen's interaction with public sector agencies".

We are expected not only to be apolitical, responsive, objective and accountable in carrying out the work of our organisation, but to endeavour to improve the quality and quantity of the contribution we make. This may involve supporting others within and across organisations to share knowledge and expertise. We should use personal development opportunities to increase our skills and the value we can add to our organisation. This has been described as working with pride, passion, pace and professionalism.

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We must ensure our actions are not affected by our personal interests or relationships

Ensuring our actions are not affected by personal interests or relationships is essential if we are to be worthy of public trust. It is equally important that we do not act in a way that improperly benefits our family or friends or groups in which we have a personal interest.

We must avoid circumstances where our personal interests or relationships conflict with the interests of our organisation. We must also avoid situations where there could be an appearance of such conflict. Our actions need to be fair and unbiased and should always be able to bear close public scrutiny. An important part of strengthening trustworthiness is our commitment to transparency. Openness allows organisations to ensure that conflicts are avoided or managed. By being open with our organisation and disclosing non-work commitments, we enhance our trustworthiness.

It is important we do not give preferential treatment to people we are connected with, either socially, personally, through work or in any other way. Our organisations must have processes that preclude our being involved in deciding matters relating to friends or family, and we must not take part in employment selection processes, or have supervisory responsibilities, that involve another family member.

Any commercial activities, investments or other personal interests must not influence the work we do, and we must be open in declaring where our interests may potentially conflict with our responsibilities. Just as we must first obtain the consent of our organisation before undertaking additional employment so that any conflicts can be avoided, we must also disclose any commercial business we set up that will operate concurrently with our work in the State Services.

The financial interests of some people in the State Services (or of their close family or friends) may be related to the operations of the organisation in which they work in such a way that a reasonable observer may perceive a potential for conflict. To avoid any appearance of bias, organisations may prohibit the continued holding of this type of interest as a condition of appointment to a position, or promote transparency by requiring this type of interest to be registered. To ensure that discretions are not influenced by personal advantage, if we are involved in decision-making, we may be required to declare to an accessible register kept by our organisation, any significant financial interests we have that relate to the sector in which our organisation has any advisory, regulatory, or administrative responsibilities. Because significant financial interests of our partner, a close family member, or long-standing friend in a sector related to our organisation may be seen by a reasonable observer as having a similar potential for conflict, our organisation may also require the registration of these interests.

It is important that we do not take a legalistic and minimalist approach this type of disclosure, but show the openness necessary to provide public comfort that our actions are not affected by our personal interests. ( Any such register of interests should focus on financial interests, and should not extend to political or other affiliations.)

We must never use for personal advantage any information that we may access in the course of our work and that is not already generally available to the public.

We must always be conscious of the potential for conflict in what we do. Avoiding bias and avoiding any appearance of bias are equally important. If we have an interest, and our official responsibilities connect to that interest, our impartiality is at risk. We must avoid creating any sense among reasonable, fair-minded and informed observers that we favour any party to a decision, and avoid anything that would make them feel there is a real danger of bias in what we do.

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We must never misuse our position for personal gain

We have a range of roles, responsibilities and powers that enable us to carry out our organisational functions. These must be applied, and the resources of our organisation used, only for the intended purpose and in the intended way. This is reflected in the duty of statutory Crown entities to ensure that everyone working for the organisation acts in a manner consistent with its objectives, functions, current statement of intent and any output agreement.

Using our position properly incorporates all the integrity standards of the code of conduct. It requires fairness and for us to act within the spirit and the letter of law and policy. It means that we remain impartial in our work and must not be influenced in our decision-making by personal interests or advantage to any person or organisation with which we are connected.

We must be objective in the way we manage our work, ensuring we are fair, consistent and transparent in what we do. Acting inappropriately will inevitably conflict with the statutory requirement for our organisations to function in an efficient, effective and economical way 14 , as managing complaints about the way we do things will divert resources from productive activities. We must maintain accurate records about what we do, and respond openly to requests for information, so that the public can be confident that we do not misuse our position.

New Zealanders expect us to work impartially, not to be influenced by personal motives, not to show favouritism and not to misuse public resources for our personal benefit. This means we must always be careful that we do not put ourselves in a position where our work responsibilities could be affected by some other interest that we have. It is equally important that we avoid circumstances where other people could reasonably consider that our personal interests create a conflict with our work responsibilities.

There is always a possibility of conflicts between our professional and personal lives. We need to be alert to this. If such circumstances arise, we must be very open and ensure that we have properly disclosed the potential conflict, have distanced ourselves from involvement and avoided acquiring information that could be seen as giving us a personal advantage.

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We must decline gifts or benefits that place us under any obligation or perceived influence

We must be very careful about accepting any form of benefit that is not provided by our organisation and be aware always of the public perception that can result from accepting favours.

Using an official position for personal gain is a form of dishonesty that is likely to impact on public confidence in government and, particularly, in the State Services. Expectations in this area therefore are more demanding than is the case in the private sector and for the public generally. We understand that anything that is proffered to us in connection with our work can only be accepted if specifically permitted by the policies of our organisation.

There will usually be perceptions of influence or personal benefit if we accept gifts, hospitality or 'quid pro quo' exchanges of favours. We must not seek or accept favours from anyone, or on behalf of anyone, who could benefit from influencing us or our organisation. Organisations' policies on accepting gifts and hospitality vary, depending on their business. In all cases, it is expected that gifts will only be accepted following a transparent process of declaration and registration. To avoid misperceptions, it is essential that the process is public. This requirement applies equally when gifts and opportunities are offered to organisations as a whole - for example, donations to social clubs and staff discount arrangements.

When we are presented with ceremonial gifts, these are expected to remain the property of our organisation, reflecting the relationship that gave rise to the gift.

Offers of hospitality, as with gift offers, must always be assessed in terms of the purpose of the donor. The business reason for this type of spending on State servants will usually relate to managing the relationship with organisations by facilitating access to decision-makers, or acquiring some implied endorsement through association with organisations. Receiving hospitality is usually inappropriate if it extends beyond courtesy.

There is potential for abuse in air points schemes and other product promotion programmes. We must ensure that work-related purchasing decisions are kept separate from arrangements of this type, unless our organisation has published policies that specifically address any apparent personal interest that may arise.

We must not receive personal benefits or gratuities from third parties for carrying out our organisation's functions, participating in activities as an organisation representative or undertaking work-related speaking engagements. Any payments should either be declined or paid to our organisation.

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We must avoid any activities, work or non-work, that may harm the reputation of our organisation or of the State Services

As a general principle, what we do in our personal lives is of no concern to our organisation unless it interferes with our work performance or reflects badly on the integrity or standing of the State Services.

Our employers have a legitimate interest in any of our activities if they are likely to affect relationships with the Government, other Members of Parliament, or the public.

We must avoid being connected publicly with behaviour that creates a sense of public disquiet, and that, implicitly, diminishes trust in the State Services. Involvement in some personal activities, including unlawful behaviour or incidents involving a breach of trust, is likely to bring our organisation into disrepute.

We must use judgement when exercising our personal democratic rights or voicing professional concerns. We must be careful that we act lawfully, and that we do not misuse official or personal information we have acquired through our work. We must always be careful that our actions do not compromise our organisation or our Minister.

In making judgements about our non-work activities, we should consider:

  • the nature and circumstances of the activity
  • our position, duties, and responsibilities
  • the consequences of the activity on our ability to fulfil our duties and responsibilities
  • the effects of the activity or its consequences on our organisation's relationships with Ministers and people using our services
  • any legal framework, e.g. the Health Sector Code of Good Faith 15 , and other professional codes
  • the likely public perception of the appropriateness of what we do, and the "angle" that commentators may adopt if there is media reporting of our activities
  • implications of the behaviour on levels of public trust in the State Services.

Membership of unions and professional associations, and active participation in groups of this type, are not the sorts of actions that, in themselves, will harm the reputation of our organisation. Where activities involve direct criticism of, or opposition to, government policy, there is a need to ensure that we are part of collective action and that we are not disregarding the criteria set out above. The importance of keeping politics out of our job and our job out of politics is undiminished.

Before starting a business activity, or accepting any secondary or additional employment, whether or not it is for payment, we should obtain specific approval from our organisation. We should ensure that there will be no conflict with our official duties and no adverse effect on our efficiency or performance, and that the additional work can be performed wholly in our own time. Part-time employment is a tradition in areas such as the health sector, although it is increasingly common for us to work part-time. We must have clear authorisation from our organisation before we begin any secondary or additional work.

Additional employment may create a conflict if it involves:

  • work in a business that has or is developing a contractual relationship with any government organisation
  • an organisation that receives public funding
  • a business that lobbies Ministers, or Members of Parliament, or government organisations
  • a business that is regulated by the organisation we work for
  • demands that may undermine our ability to fulfil our duties
  • a business that has an interest in the privileged, private or confidential information that we can access.

When considering whether an activity may be harmful and therefore unacceptable, our immediate feelings can often be a useful guide. What is your conscience telling you? Another test of appropriateness may be the opinions of colleagues following discussion of all the facts, in effect a collective conscience. A reluctance to openly discuss an activity may reflect our innate awareness that the activity is not acceptable.

Related information

14 State Sector Act 1988, sections 32, 34; Crown Entities Act 2004, section 49

15 Employment Relations Act 2000 Schedule 1B