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Speaker: Memorandum To: Citizens of NZ

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  • Angus Robertson,

    Warning - cynicism follows.

    Dear PSM

    Good news this is all about to be changed. Bad news is it is unlikely to get better.

    Committee-ing to the nth degree is being targeted by the new government as they seek to eliminate backroom wastage. They will probably be cutting a lot of these committees. However the state will still need to have some mechanism of presenting the illusion of accountability by achieving blame avoidance.

    Left wing governments provide for blame avoidance in the manner you describe - spreading blame so thinly across so many committees that accountability is only ever ascribed to "the process" (even though this is what "the process" is largely designed to achieve). Left wing governments then form committees to look at the procedural short comings identifiable in "the process".

    Right wing governments do away with much of the committee process in favour of a market solution. Right wing governments hire consulting experts to take accountability (carry the blame). This works by deflecting direct criticism from the government to the expert.

    The transition about to occur one of form. No longer will ideas and initiatives of merit be lost in committee, soon they will be rejected out of hand by an expert consultant.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    Hide's 'perk busting" type antics have had the counter intuitive affect of making government hugely risk averse.

    Why is that counter-intuitive Don? Isn't making government averse to initiatives that involve spending money Hide's aim? Wouldn't ACT prefer a sclerotic, unimaginative government doing the minimum it could 'get away with' to one which is activist, thinks creatively and unafraid to intervene where it could contribute something useful?

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 199 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    The transition about to occur one of form. No longer will ideas and initiatives of merit be lost in committee, soon they will be rejected out of hand by an expert consultant.

    This has been a thread of near-poetic cynicism ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    I suppose those that have been around for a while would recognise the inimitable stylings of our very own Russell Brown History does, indeed repeat, speshly when after 9 years of sanity the same old faces creep back into power.

    Damn! I was going to link to that tomorrow!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Wouldn't ACT prefer a sclerotic, unimaginative government doing the minimum it could 'get away with' to one which is activist, thinks creatively and unafraid to intervene where it could contribute something useful?

    Rodney Hide's much-touted 'bonfire of regulations' is all well and good. But where there's fire there's smoke - the smoke of the litigation industry. The kind of litigation as seen in the days before ACC. And what if, for instance, de-zoning is challenged by a Brown vs Board of Education-type lawsuit?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4353 posts Report Reply

  • Public Service Manager,

    It's called "accountability". Frequently its trivial and for the wrong things, but its certainly better than the alternative which our Public Service Manager so fervantly (sic) desires

    I suspect I was being too opaque.

    I am a fervent champion of accountability and transparancy. My fear is that the Public Sector gets manipulated by various interests to become less open despite legislation such as the OIA.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I want to be able to publish more evidence based material. I can't, because, for apparently political reasons we are (as public servants) prohibited from direct contact with the public.

    We are required to communicate through rooms full of people who tailor our words.

    Sorry if I gave the impression I was trying to dodge questions.. my point was we would like to be more transparent, but the machine has evolved to neuter the OIA due to extreme interpretation.

    And as a line manager, my "information" rarely makes it to an OIA response.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Public Service Manager,

    Wrong. William Bell had almost a hundred convictions, it sure wasn't his "first offence".

    Fair point - this was a cock-up on my part. I meant to say violent offence. I would refer you to the commentary in the recent ruling from the Court of Appeal.

    I'm not disputing the tragedy and horror of him and the situation.. just suggesting that there are thousands of others who fit the same profile. They just didn't go ape-shit crazy, and how is a Probation Officer with hundreds to cover going to select?

    I struggle with my 14 direct reports... imagine having 50 or 100?

    Wellington • Since Mar 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    I suspect I was being too opaque.

    i don't think so.

    Sorry if I gave the impression I was trying to dodge questions.

    i didn't get that impression.

    i find it interesting that your attempt to highlight the perverse outcomes of a system ostensibly designed to provide accountability and transparency received so much breathless indignation. but there you go, people read what they want to read.

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 634 posts Report Reply

  • Jeremy Eade,

    Public Service Manager.

    Thanks for the information. Well written. It's particularly weird to have read you in such secrecy but supports what may be a systemic problem in the set up of both private and public organisational models.

    Secrecy as a strategy puts a lot of test on workplace loyalty.

    auckland • Since Mar 2008 • 1112 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Fair point - this was a cock-up on my part. I meant to say violent offence. I would refer you to the commentary in the recent ruling from the Court of Appeal.

    It jumped out to me, but I just didn't have time today to query it. I'll annotate the reference soon.

    I'm not disputing the tragedy and horror of him and the situation.. just suggesting that there are thousands of others who fit the same profile. They just didn't go ape-shit crazy, and how is a Probation Officer with hundreds to cover going to select?

    Again, the issue of people wanting 100% security without wanting to think hard about what it entails. Not PC drives me nuts on this ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18963 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    I suspect I was being too opaque.

    I am a fervent champion of accountability and transparancy. My fear is that the Public Sector gets manipulated by various interests to become less open despite legislation such as the OIA.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I want to be able to publish more evidence based material. I can't, because, for apparently political reasons we are (as public servants) prohibited from direct contact with the public.

    We are required to communicate through rooms full of people who tailor our words.

    Fair enough, glad I misinterpreted (though in my defence the majority of commenters appear to have read it the same way I did).

    Your further explanation makes me think I entirely agree with you! If that's the way your department requires information requests to be handled, I think that is perverse. Almost all my OIA requests have had direct contact with the policy people concerned. If I was asking for controversial stuff, it got vetted by their legal department, but the redactions never seemed unreasonable. I DO agree its poor if you're required to shovel all outside communication, including OIA requests, through a Comms department.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Damn! I was going to link to that tomorrow!

    You still should. I saw that quote on one of the blogs this morning too.

    This has been a thread of near-poetic cynicism ...

    In the end years of the Labour Government, I felt that no matter what argument I presented to the Government, ones they could be sympathetic to in other times, they'd carry on their pre-ordained agenda. It didn't make a difference to them.

    I already feel that way about the present one.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2136 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Damn! I was going to link to that tomorrow!

    Well you can, just credit me ;-)
    On a serious note I would llike to point out that I, and others, warned that this BOC was going to do just this sort of thing but democracy allows stupid, ignorant and mislead people to vote too.
    (BOC= Bunch of Corporates, honest :)

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4872 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    In the end years of the Labour Government, I felt that no matter what argument I presented to the Government, ones they could be sympathetic to in other times, they'd carry on their pre-ordained agenda. It didn't make a difference to them.

    That is a sad truth. The reason we now have the "government we deserve" can be blamed on what is left of traditional media. We have riled on this point for years. What is to be done? I despair.
    FUCK. when the hell are the PEOPLE going to wake up to the fact that the few that rule do not have the survival of the species as their prime objective? The rich/wealthy are not the high point of human endevour,. They are the embodiment of Satan.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4872 posts Report Reply

  • Public Service Manager,

    This has been a thread of near-poetic cynicism ...

    Strangely enough my original intent was to look on the bright side... despite the misfiring of some legislation (mainly due to operational interpretation) we still have a damn fine Public Service.

    The blatant hyperbole about Corrections & ACC being excreted at the moment to create a crisis seems somewhat extreme... I hope most of us realise there's plebs like us trying to keep things going despite the distraction this stuff causes... it really does affect the people on the front line.

    Mind you, with the employment market like it is I doubt you'll hear anyone complaining!

    Wellington • Since Mar 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    The rich/wealthy are the embodiment of Satan?

    ...Is that tongue in cheek, an exaggeration, or are you serious?

    If you're serious. Um. Wow. That's an interesting statement.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • Public Service Manager,

    then we can see the advice provided to the minister and the minister can publicly stand up and defend his or her reasons for departing from the advice

    That's exactly what is meant to happen. The difficulty is that the advice often doesn't make it that far... hence my hypothetical example about drug policy, which was operational advice given in the UK over several years.

    I would argue there are many situations in NZ where even conceptual matters fail to be discussed openly because of fear of disclosure - and I mean well below the policy level.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2009 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    Is that tongue in cheek, an exaggeration, or are you serious?

    are you serious in asking if he is serious?

    LOL

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 634 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Many a true word is spoken in jest.
    Much of the time I find this forum to take the trivial far too seriously but when it comes to power and it's corrupting influence, I find many are too timid to take the plunge and call a spade a spade.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4872 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    As a former public service manager with around 20years experience, I second PSM's post and subsequent comments (except the bit about Bell, of course). Although s/he tries to be cheerful, I can hear the mounting frustration and distress, the same frustration that cost me a nervous breakdown trying to dance on the head of a pin ("Do More With Less!" - remember that little gem from the 90's?) and eventually led me out of the PS with a permanent paroxitine habit.

    Yet most of the people I worked with were good, honest, hard-working people who really, really wanted the right result for the public. It's the system that's the problem, as PSM says. The State Sector Act 9187 cut at the strength of the Public Service by demanding it be run as separate businesses. You can still find two departments working at cross-purposes (though not as much as in the 90's) and both have their strategies signed off by the politicians, who jealously fight for their "patch" and so don't talk to each other.

    Then you've got a serious dearth of senior management talent (and less backbone) and a rabid media pack more interested in witch-hunts than getting things done. You can almost time Plunket to the second in asking "Who's to blame for this?" during interviews. Sometimes shit happens, what matters is who's the poor fucker who has to fix it.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    9187??? Dyslexic fingers - "1987" of course.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams,

    There's parts of PSMs piece I can easily relate too, particularly since the clarifications, and others I can't.

    It occurs to me that some of the constraints public servants operate under aren't overtly political, they're the none-so-subtle dead-weight of less than talented managers. My problem with the NZ public service wasn't with the senior people, it was the middle managers - and I don't mean to slight PSM here - who were far more timid than seemed warranted. Perhaps it's a Xer thing too, but many of my frustrations weirdly correlated with people who'd done little other than public service (and I say this having spent probably half my professional life in NZ, NSW or Australian public sector agencies).

    One other point worth considering, are the limitations of public service really unique to public service. Certainly the OIA is, but corporates have plenty of disclosure requirements that compare.

    I've recently been doing some study with the Macquarrie School of Management which has included numerous case studies of domestic and international corporates operating so unbelievably poorly it's astounding more haven't failed (and many have). Interestingly even the case studies on vision and mission, the stuff PSM most distains, included corporates with strategies entirely divorced from market dynamics, structural impediments and organisational capability.

    The public service has failings, for sure, but are they more or more significant than the private sector - more than Bear Sterns, Bridgecorp or Fisher Pykel? Jus say'n.

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2233 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    who's the poor fucker who has to fix it.

    The fuckers that the people voted for. "Except they ain't poor and they still have that greed and hunger for anything that is still owned by the people. If it isn't owned by one of the few, it's up for grabs.
    Pssst. wana buy a prison? how about a nationalised insurance scheme? Railway? Power Co. waddaya want?

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4872 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    The fuckers that the people voted for.

    Ha! HA! Do you really think Judith Collins is going to get down and dirty and actually FIX anything at Corrections??? Bollocks to that. She'll issue edicts and refuse to be confident and all the rest, but it's Barry Matthews that has to keep on fixing the problems, if she'd only get off his back long enough. It him and his staff I feel sorry for (well, most of them. There's a few....)

    Elected representatives NEVER fix anything.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

  • Mark Harris,

    The public service has failings, for sure, but are they more or more significant than the private sector - more than Bear Sterns, Bridgecorp or Fisher Pykel? Jus say'n.

    Spot on, Paul! Spot bloody on! But they don't have trifling issues like the OIA and the rabid media I mentioned earlier to deal with, so you don't hear about the $millions lost in the private sector through cockup, poor judgement and the rest. They're allowed to bury their mistakes.

    Waikanae • Since Jul 2008 • 1343 posts Report Reply

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