Unlike many of his readers, I know Poneke personally. I have a lot of respect for him as a fellow journalist.
He and I have worked closely in the past, but he was always the yin to my yang in terms of his starting point and approach to issues. Poneke has always found it difficult to comprehend that 'corruption' exists in lil ol Godzone.
Poneke's latest attempt to sing the Pollyanna song about NZ is worthy of a small fisk. He quotes Transparency International extensively.
"You cannot bribe a New Zealand police officer. Anyone who tried would be arrested on the spot. Everyone knows this, which is why nobody tries to, not even the worst, most desperate or richest criminals."
Really Poneke? Do you REALLY believe elements of the police are incorruptible?
How then do you explain these comments from former criminals:
Among others we spoke to was another underworld figure, now a businessman, who is prepared to testify to a Royal Commission of Inquiry that police "shorted" drugs seized as evidence, criminal slang for a procedure where corrupt cops seize drugs and either don't enter it into the record at all, or otherwise remove a quantity of drugs from the deal bags before they are submitted and weighed as evidential exhibits.
The drugs are then sold by underworld figures like Bob Wood, controlled by police, with profits split between police and the drug dealer.
"I wasn't any angel myself back then," the businessman, Michael*, told Investigate, "but there were the likes of people being busted for marijuana, and like I went up to court myself – I got caught with 13 ounces and I got charged with 10. There was a lot of that going on."
Who was the arresting officer?
"It was a cop called Peter Gibbons," Michael said.
What happened to the missing three ounces of dope?
"It was put back out for supply," says Jack*, another former drug dealer turned businessman who saw a large amount of his seized marijuana vanish without trace between arrest and the typing up of the charge sheet. "The cops had their networks, people they used, and they made a fortune from seizing drugs and reselling them."
"They had their hands out all the time," Michael confirmed to Investigate. "I know people who were pulled up with heaps and heaps of drugs but they just left them alone if you fixed them up.
"They'd take all your money, or drugs, whatever, then say 'don't let us see you out here again', but you'd never be charged. That happened to me quite a lot. I got picked up a few times with amounts of pot on me and they'd just take the weed and say 'I won't see you again tonight'."
According to Michael, senior Dunedin Police were running a protection racket where drug dealers would be left alone provided they paid substantial money to certain police officers.
"There was people getting paid under the table. [Name deleted] was a bit of a drug dealer back then but the cops never went around to see him. I was working in with him as well and we never got touched hardly, then this Peter Gibbons would come in.
"I was probably making three or four thousand dollars a week selling drugs and stuff like that, and because they weren't getting anything out of it they were coming around and just ripping people off," recalls Michael.
Or this – the discovery that senior detectives in Dunedin were making far more money each week than the police salary paid:
Furious at being set up during Operation Sub Rosa, John Doe went to the trouble of doing a little research on Gordon Hunter. He hired his own private investigator, who did an asset search and found the detective owned substantially more property and assets than his meager police salary would appear to support.
"Hunter and Gibbons also had accounts at the same bank in South Dunedin, where I banked. One of the staff members there showed me printouts one day. On the statements I saw, Hunter was taking in thousands of dollars a week. The bank executive made the comment to me that Hunter's incomings far exceeded an ordinary detective's wages," says Doe.
Which tallies with information provided to us by Bob Wood's former girlfriend, who has also sworn an affidavit.
"I remember I had to go away and drop money off to Gordon Hunter, but I don't remember why. I had to take money out of an account and give it to Gordon Hunter in cash. It was $1500. I had to meet him, in one of the D cars. He came and met me at Lookout Point, and I was to just park there and sit and wait by the Fire Station, and I can't remember if I was the one to get out of my car or not. I was given all these instructions, do this, do that, do this, do that. And I had to do it in cash, out of the Westpac branch in South Dunedin. It was a lot of money. It was to be gotten in littler bills, not hundreds. It was a big wad of money."
To give Hunter the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there was an innocent explanation for the city's top car thief paying a police officer $1,500 in small bills at a remote location. But it's hard to think what kind of explanation that might be.
Or this story, confirmed to Investigate by a jewellery store owner who was robbed by Detective Gordon Hunter:
Nor is it the only question mark hanging over Hunter's conduct. When a central city jewelry store was raided in a smash and grab in the late seventies, a friend of the jeweler's saw Detective Hunter bend down and scoop up rings that had been scattered on the pavement. The raiders made off with around $90,000 worth of jewelry, but although some was later recovered and some of the offenders caught, mysteriously Gordon Hunter did not return the rings he'd picked up.
The jeweler, who'd been advised by his friend of Hunter's actions, was later stunned when a local criminal offered to "return" the items for a substantial reward.
For the record, standard police procedure at the time was to cordon off crime scenes, impose a police scene guard, and wait for the police photographer to arrive and photograph the rings where they'd fallen on the pavement, for evidential purposes. Additionally, where some of the rings may have been clutched in an offender's hand, there was always the possibility of fingerprints. Gordon Hunter's actions precluded that.
But it wasn't just Hunter.
"They all had their fingers in the pie," says Michael. "They're all pretty well off. They were worse than what we were, they were absolute backstabbing pricks."
Michael also recalls the police earning cash from insurance companies for retrieving stolen vehicles.
"Sometimes they were like bounty hunters. I stole a motorcycle one time and you'd think it was a Rolls Royce I'd actually pinched. They had cops out for it everywhere, and they were looking for the reward.
"Something went missing, the freezing works got their export meat pinched, there was a joker in there doing that, but they ended up getting onto that but the cops ended up taking all the meat home. None of the meat got returned, but they ended up getting something for catching him."
Poneke might like to dismiss it as 'conspiracy theory', but the sources are real people, some of them respected business leaders now, prepared to testify to a Royal Commission into police corruption.
But like the three wise monkeys, neither Poneke nor Transparency International can detect corruption in New Zealand life.
Part of the problem is Transparency International's methodology.
Firstly, it relies primarily on reports from international quangos and ngos, most of whom have little or no intimate knowledge of NZ:
"Guidelines have been set up which govern the decision-making process regarding the selection of sources for the CPI. These guidelines include the actual criteria that a source needs to meet in order to qualify for inclusion as well as how the final decision is reached with the help of the Transparency International Index Steering Committee.
This process aims at making the final decision on the inclusion of sources as transparent and robust as possible. As a result of this it was decided that the CPI 2007 includes data from the following sources:
ADB, the Country Performance Assessment Ratings by the Asian Development Bank, compiled 2006, published 2007.
AFDB, the Country Policy and Institutional Assessment by the African Development Bank, compiled in 2005 and published December 2006
BTI, the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, Bertelsmann Foundation, 2007, to be published 2008.
CPIA, the Country Policy and Institutional Assessment by the IDA and IBRD (World Bank), compiled 2006, published 2007.
EIU, the Economist Intelligence Unit, 2007.
FH, Freedom House Nations in Transit, 2007.
GI, Global Insight (formerly World Markets Research Centre), Country Risk Ratings 2007.
IMD, the International Institute for Management Development, Lausanne. We use the two annual publications from 2006-2007.
MIG, Grey Area Dynamics Ratings by the Merchant International Group, 2007.
PERC, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, Hong Kong. We use the two annual publications from 2006-2007.
UNECA, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Governance Report compiled in 2005, published 2006. New data for 2007 was not yet available.
WEF, the World Economic Forum. New data from 2007 was not yet available. We use only the data from 2006.
Then there's this:
"The index primarily provides a snapshot of the views of business people and country analysts".
Forgive my less-than-Pollyanna cynicism, but most business people and 'country analysts' are not experts on the underworld or police corruption. Nor are they directly involved in decisions by police to prosecute National MPs but not Labour ministers.
It is probably entirely true that in terms of money-under-the-table business dealings, New Zealand is pretty clean. And that's really what TI measure. Police corruption and political dirty tricks, and the stacking of the public service with sycophants, are out of their league.
As if to prove the point, TI itself points out the kind of corruption it is looking for:
All sources generally apply a definition of corruption such as the misuse of public power for private benefit, for example bribing of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, or embezzlement of public funds.
Although arguably the $800,000 Pledgecard scandal should have put a major dent in our score on the "embezzlement of public funds" test, New Zealand consistently ranks at the top of the TI Index, it turns out, because the Index is designed not to take account of yearly scandals:
Such assessments as compiled by ADB, AFDB, BTI, CPIA, EIU, FH, MIG, UNECA and GI are conducted by a small number of country experts who regularly analyze a country's performance, crosschecking their conclusions with peer discussions.
Following this systematic evaluation, they then consider a potential upgrading or downgrading. As a result, a country's score changes rather seldom and the data shows little year-to-year variation.
TI relies quite heavily on foreign experts who deal with various countries to tick boxes depending on what kind of corruption they come across – kickbacks etc. TI says its use of foreigners to assess avoids what it calls a "home country bias", where locals might take a different perspective. Again, this approach is weighted to finding traditional corruption. It does not so easily detect cronyism (rife in NZ politics) or, again, police corruption.
The list of agencies TI sources intelligence from provide reports on whether a target country has laws discouraging corruption (we do, which boosts our brownie points) but they don't detect whether those laws are enforced or not. The existence of such laws, matched with the lack of prosecutions under them, is deemed to be prima facie evidence of low corruption, rather than prima facie evidence of the other obvious alternative, a failure to enforce.
A ranking of countries may easily be misunderstood as measuring the performance of a country with absolute precision. This is certainly not true.
But according to Poneke, it is:
Let me emphasise this: You can't possibly do better than be the least-corrupt country in the world in Transparency International's list. We are not number two, we are not number three, four, five, six or seven. We are at the very top. No country scores better than New Zealand for being less corrupt. Not one.
Many people reading this will not want to hear this message and will take extreme exception to it. Some will claim Transparency International is wrong and itself part of the conspiracy they find at every traffic light, but they are deluded. Whatever the failings of New Zealand, corruption is very much not one of them and we are all the winners from this. May it ever be so.
Poneke is well-intentioned, but a big questionmark hangs on the issue of who is really "deluded"?