Governments need to do more to regain citizens' trust, OECD says

By Stella Dawson WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Advanced countries need to do more to address breaches of integrity by public officials and help win back citizens' trust in national governments, a survey by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found. Too many advanced countries require very little disclosure of public officials' private assets, and they fail to adequately address the revolving door of politics, the OECD's Government at a Glance 2015 report said. “Any sense of a tolerance of conflicts of interest among public officials undermines trust,” OECD Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi, said in a statement. "Ensuring transparency and accountability is key to restoring faith in governments.” Citizens' confidence in governments fell during the 2007-2009 global financial governance, said the OECD, a think tank for major developed and emerging countries. Its survey found that only seven OECD countries – Australia, Austria, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand – impose restrictions on the revolving door in hiring. Most countries allow someone working in the private sector to take a public sector job at the same agency they had lobbied or supplied with goods and services, which can pose a potential conflict of interest, it said. In contrast, 21 countries require a post-employment "cooling off" period, restricting public officials when they leave government from lobbying or engaging in official dealings with that agency on behalf of the private sector for a certain period. Asset disclosure showed some improvement. In 2014, gifts were prohibited or had to be disclosed for 73 percent of the top decision makers in OECD countries surveyed compared to 68 percent in 2009, the report found. Legislators have to meet the highest levels of asset disclosure, while in the executive branch disclosure primarily is linked to an official's seniority. Sectors at risk from low disclosures include tax and customs, procurement and financial authorities, it said. Government at a Glance compares some 50 indicators from 34 OECD countries, plus about eight others, in areas such as public finance, government staffing, access to healthcare, education and justice systems. Other findings include: * Only 41 percent of OECD countries surveyed have whistleblower protection laws for employees who disclose wrongdoing in their workplace * Average confidence in national governments across OECD countries was 41.8 percent in 2014 compared with 45.2 percent in 2007, according to Gallup World Poll data * Accessibility of government data for public use varies greatly with Korea in the lead and Poland lagging. (Reporting by Stella Dawson; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)