Serious Fraud Office biennial fraud and corruption conference

Minister Responsible for the Serious Fraud Office

SkyCity Convention Centre

Auckland

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, ka nui te mihi kia koutou

As Minister responsible for the Serious Fraud Office, it is a great pleasure to be opening the 2019 Fraud and Corruption Conference ‘Protecting New Zealand’s taonga’.

First, I must thank Julie Read, the Director of New Zealand’s Serious Fraud Office, and her team who have organised this topical and significant event.

I would like to thank too those of you who have travelled from abroad to participate in this Conference, and the annual meeting of the Economic Crime Agencies Network which concluded yesterday and was also hosted by the SFO.

I would especially like to acknowledge the heads and senior leaders here today of the international partner agencies of the SFO, namely:

Lisa Osofsky, the Director of the UK Serious Fraud Office;

Denis Tang, the Director of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau;

Ricky Yau, the Deputy Commissioner and Head of Operations of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption;

Laode Muhammad Syarif, Commissioner of Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission and

Rupert Broad, Head of the International Anti‑Corruption Coordination Centre.

In attendance are other representatives from these agencies, along with their peers from the Australian Federal Police and Attorney General's Office as well as the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.

It’s also great to have here representatives from the governments of Fiji and Tonga.

The ideas and knowledge our overseas guests bring will inform discussions today, and in the future, about how New Zealand can best protect our valuable corruption-free reputation.

We can learn a great deal from our international partners. New Zealand faces many of the same challenges in combating fraud and corruption as they do. We appreciate their continued willingness to share expertise and to cooperate with our law enforcement agencies.

Speaking of law enforcement agencies, I would like to acknowledge Richard Chambers, Assistant Commissioner of NZ Police, who is here today. 

To our domestic guests and attendees, it’s pleasing to see such a great turnout. It should be no surprise given the line‑up of speakers. They are some of the most experienced and highly-regarded anti-corruption and counter-fraud experts and officials in the world.

Today is a fantastic opportunity to increase your understanding of the international trends in financial crime and different approaches to combat it. Learning about these will strengthen this country’s ability to protect our institutions against fraud and corruption.

One of this Government’s priorities is to deliver a transparent, transformative and compassionate government. We can only do this if our institutions are trusted and free of corruption.

Discussions today will have a strong focus on prevention - with the first speaker Lyn McDonald talking about the UK’s preventative approach to reducing fraud and waste in government spending.

Lyn has been instrumental in setting up a Centre of Expertise for Counter Fraud in the United Kingdom that works across the UK government to find and prevent fraud.

The Centre estimates that fraud and error in the UK government cost it anywhere between 0.5 and 5 percent of its annual spend. 

Even if New Zealand was at the very lowest end of this estimate, and we could only prevent 10 percent of the loss, that would be about 40 million dollars, or four times the SFO’s annual budget (to put it in perspective).

As an extension of the work Lyn has been leading, the UK has recently established the International Public Sector Fraud Forum, which is reaching out and working with other countries, including New Zealand, to share progress and good practice.

Our involvement in this Forum, of which the SFO is New Zealand’s representative, supports this country’s initiatives to proactively respond to and reduce the risk of fraud and corruption.

Through prevention initiatives, activity is directed toward avoiding harm rather than reacting to it once the damage has been done. Prevention is the first line of defence. A reactive response is still entirely necessary where fraud and corruption are discovered, but less optimal as losses are not often recovered.

The SFO and Ministry of Justice are leading this country’s system-wide approach as part of an Anti-Corruption Work Programme to prevent public sector fraud and corruption.

This work will particularly benefit some of the most vulnerable groups in our society who are disproportionally disadvantaged by such offending. It will help ensure public sector funds reach them as intended and are not siphoned off by fraudsters. 

The work benefits New Zealand businesses too as it will strengthen this country’s corruption-free reputation, which they trade on.

This all contributes to creating an international reputation we can be proud of.

It’s fair to say fraud and corruption are not a feature of everyday life in New Zealand, and we are currently ranked as the second least-corrupt country in world - in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

New Zealand does not have the levels and types of corruption that we see in many developing economies, but we cannot afford to be complacent about the risks which we do have. Recent cases of public sector fraud highlight the risk, with one notable case of offending by a senior employee at the Ministry of Transport.

Complacency is perhaps the biggest challenge. While we have been at the top of the Corruption Perceptions Index since its inception, this is not something we can take for granted. 

If we are proactive in understanding the risks and countering them, our existing strong culture of honesty and openness will serve us well in preserving our corruption-free reputation for the future.

It’s good to see representatives of both the business community and government here. I hope that the bonds formed today between these sectors can be maintained in the coming years. Only by working together can we effectively combat fraud and corruption.

Today will be a great event, and you will walk away, I expect, armed with new ideas about how to preserve our anti-corruption culture – a taonga worthy of protection.

Thank you for letting me join you this morning. It is genuinely an honour to be here, to be part of this Conference and I look forward to hearing about the interesting and valuable discussions that I know will take place today. Thank you very much.