Ethics, Corruption and Incompetence

Ethics, corruption and incompetence. Quite separate issues you may think. But is there a possible link?

Whilst New Zealand may sit near the top of regular lists of corruption free countries – we know that we experience forms of behavior which are unacceptable, and could be construed as a form of corruption.

There is an argument that bad behavior at the highest levels of the largest democracy in the world has opened the gate to unacceptable behavior elsewhere. After all, if it is OK for the leader of the free world to behave so badly, then surely it’s OK for everyone else?

In the same way that there appears to be a co-relation between the more time children spend watching violent videos, and the violence they exhibit in the playground, there may well be a co-relation between behavior at the highest level in politics, and at a more local level. In other words, is there a subliminal contract that says “If it is OK for Donald Trump to look after himself and his mates in a totally unethical way, then surely it must be OK for Shane Jones to do the same?"

And does this mean that the bar of what we deem to be acceptable behaviour in other areas has been lowered?

There has always been political influence in New Zealand. Growing up in rural New Zealand you always knew when you drove down a dusty gravel country road, and then came upon a sealed section of road, that you had identified where the local Council representative lived. Or in the period following the Great Depression, when jobs where scarce (unemployment was around 30 %), and civil service jobs were for life, knowing someone who was a relative/friend of a cabinet minister was a direct pathway to a job.

Of course the flip side of this was that the public service was never as well paid as private enterprise – in part because they were sinecures, and skill and talent was not necessarily a pre-requisite to getting a job.

What has changed now of course is that often public service is better paid than private enterprise, yet the bar is no higher in terms of competence. We are prepared to accept that the standard of service we accept from local councils and central government will be often incompetent, and very often simply shoddy. It simply doesn’t matter that a Council will ignore the time limits for issuing building consents – because who will enforce the breaches? How hard are they likely to slap themselves over the wrist?

But incompetence is different from corruption. And thankfully we do have some branches of government which are superbly competent.  As an example, I can renew my passport totally online, and have the new one within days.

We learn to live with poor service. Regrettably. But should we learn to live with unacceptable ethics and corruption?

How does this relate to the Real Estate industry?

We have been openly critical of most forms of the agency agreement which agents are supposed to have completed before they market a property. The primary criticism is that the typical 7 or 10 or 14 page document is produced by a real estate agent, and is almost totally weighted in favour of the agent. It details everything the client will and won’t do, but almost nothing detailing what the agent will do in return. To us that is institutional bullying by a person/organization in a position of power. It is one side taking advantage of an imbalance of knowledge and understanding of the industry.

Yet even though the document is typically one-sided, there exists one piece of protection for the client hidden towards the end of the legalese. And that is that the agent must disclose any “inducements”.

Now we know that almost all agents are absolutely uncorruptible. And if they are tempted at all to accept backhanders, kickbacks, lubrication payment, gratuity etc, that they would immediately declare such to their clients.

But are there elements creeping into the industry that are soliciting/offering backhanders?

And are we strong enough to not just resist – but to stand up and declare that they have no place in our industry?