Speaker by Various Artists

Read Post

Speaker: Memorandum To: Citizens of NZ

64 Responses

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 Newer→ Last

  • Whoops,

    "...built up like fat in a middle aged artery over the last twenty years."

    Reminds me for some reason of;

    "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides with the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon those with great vengeance and with furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers."



    So how do the silent majority make themselves heard? If the important discussions can't be started by officials, why can't it be held by the public - providing the remit for officials/public servants?

    here • Since Apr 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Poole,

    Ah, see, here's your first problem: You need to respond to your own post, with your correct name, saying something like "An interesting article, but this in not necessarily an accurate representation of the true working environment in the departments I have worked in" - just to throw the hounds off.

    As of writing, this is the first post, so I'll just have to say: Benevolent middle-managers, I did not write this blog-post, although I (frequently) nodded my head while reading.

    God I hope no-one in IT tracks this down and gets me fired.

    P.S: Unclogging the artery? It'll never happen. Ever. Too many jobs rely on the clogged arteries of government. Mine isn't one of them, but then again - I work in Service Delivery. Wooooo...

    Since Dec 2008 • 161 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Poole,

    ... and beaten to it, my penalty for abusing the 'Preview' button.

    Since Dec 2008 • 161 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    <big hug>
    It's wonderful to hear my world put so well.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Wylie,

    This is exactly the environment I faced while I was with the Ministry of Justice over the past few years. It was completelysuffocating.

    And unfortunately, those with in the best position to begin and drive any change are exactly the people whose livlihoods depend on nothing changing at all.

    Leaving that environment was the most liberating thing I have done professionally.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2009 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Eh, any large enterprise in the private sector works like this too. Endless meetings and arse-covering are a product of large organisations. It's just that in NZ, there are only a few large organisations apart from the public servce so we think that the public service is odd.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2948 posts Report Reply

  • Hadyn Green,

    It's just that in NZ, there are only a few large organisations apart from the public servce so we think that the public service is odd.

    I agree and would add that the public sector is also much more likely to get into the media

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2081 posts Report Reply

  • Whoops,

    "... Endless meetings and arse-covering are a product of large organisations. ... the public service is odd."

    Sure - but perhaps the point is that given NZ's small scale our governance should be less encumbered*.

    Again - does one rail against the system to try to change it, or work outside it to start/work through the issues and clear the space for risk averse officials to act.

    (*note; I didn't say 'smaller')

    here • Since Apr 2007 • 103 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    So let me get this straight. The problem with the public sector is it has too many lawyers, and its procurement processes are audited? Are you serious?

    In particular, your interpretation of the OIA is deeply worrying, if its a common attitude within the public service. Having been both on the side of making OIA requests (both personally and on behalf of others) and also vetting information for release on the government side, I would strongly disagree. Complaints to the Ombudsmen about OIA responses usually arise when departments say "there are no documents on this" or "no you can't have any of them". Redactions of confidential/sensitive information within documents, it seems to me, have relatively broad acceptance.

    Also, with isolated excpetions, I've had very good experiences with officials when making OIA requests. They're usually pleasant, helpful, and respond with the information you want (to the extent that it can be released) as soon as they can. Sometimes this takes a while but, hey, that's fine. Given what you've said, your department may be one of those isolated exceptions. If you can't see that the public has an interest in what the government is thinking and why it makes its decisions, then I'm rather worried that you work in the public service.

    Government should be allowed to govern, by all means, but it needs to keep in mind who it is governing for - i.e. the public as a whole, from individuals to companies to nonprofits to unions. All of those have a right to expect that information will be disclosed where possible, and that money will be able to be accounted for.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • Yorkie Girl,

    I hear you mate. Have you ever done a public policy paper while working in the public sector -- now that's surreal!

    Wellington • Since Mar 2009 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Ian MacKay,

    I believe that a big business, BP World I think, have reorganised their system so that each unit has no more than 100 on the staff. Each Ceo in charge of that unit is responsible for everything except the general BP overarching policy. The idea is that the buck stops here. The Ceo knows the name and face of the one he is about to sack. All this according to Charles Handy.
    Then on reading the excellent post from ? it sounds like a hopeless case of Yes Minister. The remedy? Um.

    Bleheim • Since Nov 2006 • 498 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Eddie, everything you say is true, and that doesn't mean Public Service Manager is wrong.

    Take OIA requests, which are so often time-wasting fishing expeditions by the Opposition party, to be leaked out-of-context to the media, or deployed as momentary gotchas in the House. They cost enormous amounts of time and money. That's not to say the OIA isn't A Very Good Thing, but it isn't used as the MPs who passed it though it would be, and it does encourage butt-covering.

    The fear of the discoverable really does chill honest advice in the public sector. A friend in a major public agency was brutally hauled over the coals for an email questioning an assumption about modelling -- not because he was wrong or not doing his job, but because it might prove embarrassing if it got to the media.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Ashby,

    The system described is inevitable unless actively worked against and even then it will persist cyclically. This is because such systems evolve in response to experience. Each crisis, mistake, criticism, ministerial enquiry that is not straightforward and new department head will accrete new layers and pieces of practice, often for good, perfectly defensible reasons.

    The problem is that plugging the hole, ensuring x never happens again or whatever is never subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Since this is just admin, it is not usually a problem. For eg road deaths would be cut dramatically if the speed limit was universally 30km/h. This is provable statistically, psychologically and physically. Yet it is simply not worth the economic slowdown, so we find a happy, productive medium and try different safety measures.

    Admin needs an equivalent of the cost-benefit analysis system whereby you can say that 'yes, we could implement systems to ensure this never happens again, but the cost of this would be to ensure our effective delivery in other areas would be unacceptably degraded.

    However I can see a downside to that, there is in New Zealand public discourse a strain of thought that is averse to the spending of money, any money. It is what makes public infrastructure projects so hard to do. So the above cost-benefit analysis would be turned around and used to prevent government doing anything because the actual end cost would be made manifest. For eg the actual costs to depts of FoI requests would require full funding for them . . .

    So you have to decide which evils you want to swap for the ones you are trying to be rid of. Also be aware that it could be worse, much worse. Look up what Byzantine really means.

    Dundee, Scotland • Since May 2007 • 425 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    Russell:

    Fair enough, and I take the point. I was somewhat intemperate. Largely because Public Service Manager essentially blamed a large proportion of government problems on lawyers. I'm a lawyer who's worked both with and on the other side of a number of very professional, dedicated public service lawyers, and I found it a bit upsetting to have the entire group dismissed to readily. ?, I apologise (but still think you're wrong on the narrow point of the worth of lawyer - although I would, wouldn't I?).

    On the substance of the topic, I agree it does chill somewhat, but what are the alternatives? Do we want to go back to the old official secrets act days? I agree that openness does have a cost, but as an overarching value, I think it is worth it.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Admin needs an equivalent of the cost-benefit analysis system whereby you can say that 'yes, we could implement systems to ensure this never happens again, but the cost of this would be to ensure our effective delivery in other areas would be unacceptably degraded.

    But unfortunately, you will get various media titans demanding an assurance that this will never happen again ...

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18839 posts Report Reply

  • Eddie Clark,

    But unfortunately, you will get various media titans demanding an assurance that this will never happen again...

    I believe Paul Henry, word for word, asked for that on Close Up last week in relation to some public sector scandal du jour.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 270 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    As Eddie Clark said above, this piece of writing is deeply worrying, if it is an accurate portrayal of how you view the OIA and how it has affected the agency you work for.

    Several times in your blog post you make reference to media criticism and 'beat-ups', and they arise in this OIA context too. Have you and your colleagues perhaps considered the alternative, which is to confront the pathetic excuse for public affairs journalism that exists in this country? Demand a right of reply to set the record straight, and tell them that the reason why taxpayers fund the work of policy analysts is precisely to discuss options for solving problems in society, or how to build on existing successes. Perhaps if ministers and senior officials were willing to stand up to the pervasive rubbish journalism, and defend officials for doing their jobs properly, more junior officials would not be inhibited from discussing things, and the quality of advice would improve.

    A neutral public service should not be confused with a supine one, and it should be prepared to defend the ethos of its work and its raison d'etre - repeatedly if necessary, until the numbskulls 'get it'.

    Put bluntly: grow some backbone and help populist ministers see that pandering to a right-wing idiot media is not a good way to make policy, and nor is punishing officials for doing their job and 'thinking the unthinkable'.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    But unfortunately, you will get various media titans demanding an assurance that this will never happen again...

    This discussion is turning towards things that I have been thinking a lot about recently for personal reasons.

    If the public and the media is going to demand 100% from the public service, they should be willing to fund it. They're clearly not, and I wish it was more OK to tell them to stop being unrealistic sometimes.

    I suspect that a lot of the required service delivery levels in the public service would shock the public (and do) when they hear about them.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6165 posts Report Reply

  • Idiot Savant,

    Take OIA requests, which are so often time-wasting fishing expeditions by the Opposition party, to be leaked out-of-context to the media, or deployed as momentary gotchas in the House. They cost enormous amounts of time and money. That's not to say the OIA isn't A Very Good Thing, but it isn't used as the MPs who passed it though it would be, and it does encourage butt-covering.

    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 desires.

    The same critique applies broadly to their entire post: the rules the Public Service Manager rails against are there primarily to ensure the public service is accountable for its use of public money and does not do things with it that the public doesn't like. And as a member of the public, I quite like this situation. Yes, fewer rules and less oversight would free up the self-procalimed Great Leaders in management to Do Things (tm). But it would mean far less accountability when they inevitably stuffed up (and they will, sometime, somewhere; no institution is perfect or composed entirely of trustworthy paragons of virtue). And as the people who own the beast, we're entitled to make that tradeoff.

    And that said: we all need to learn to distinguish between the trivial bullshit that so often passes for political "news" in this country, and the important stuff. We'd all be a lot happier, our politics would be a lot saner, and Rodney Hide would eb out of a job. See - everyone's a winner!

    The fear of the discoverable really does chill honest advice in the public sector. A friend in a major public agency was brutally hauled over the coals for an email questioning an assumption about modelling -- not because he was wrong or not doing his job, but because it might prove embarrassing if it got to the media.

    Which suggests their manager does not accept public accountability,a nd should not be working in the public service.

    Palmerston North • Since Nov 2006 • 1640 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Personally i don't believe the Public Service are that bad. It's a pretty dull kind of job and financially it is just a money go round, it's a bit like paying your kids to do chores instead of giving them pocket money and paying someone outside of the family to do the chores instead. Think about it.
    The real problem within Public Service is "Empire Building", especially when it is done from the very top.
    I had just finished reading Gordon Campbell excellent article, Murray McCully’s attack on New Zealand’s foreign aid programme which contained a reference that led me to this gem.

    There's not necessarily anything wrong with being a control freak. Through history, control freaks have got things done. But a control freak who lacks both talent and judgement? The worst of all worlds. Begone, you shitty little clown, and take your stupid moustache with you - G'bye!

    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.

    The wireless north ;-) • Since Dec 2006 • 4813 posts Report Reply

  • cant touch,

    "When people like the over-worked probation officer who decided that William Bell didn't need to be closely monitored (let's face it, he was just a drunk on parole after his first offence...) stuff up, bear in mind that that event is going to result in a plague of new paperwork that probably won't make any practical difference."

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

    Since Mar 2009 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    The fear of the discoverable really does chill honest advice in the public sector.

    Yes... maybe. When I was working in the Public Service from time to time I would telephone someone to talk about an issue and agree what we would do, rather than commit it to e-mail, because e-mails are discoverable, but phone calls are not, unless you write a file note about them, of course. But that was fairly rare. And mostly, it was just when having developed a deeply cynical view about the issue under consideration, I would contact someone else who was working on the same issue so that I could vent about it, before getting my act together and getting on with the job.

    We handled a lot of OIAs, and we prided ourselves on responding to them fully, and on time. We would often contact the person who made it, to discuss exactly what they were after, and make sure we got the right information for them. They were a pain in many ways, because we had to fit them around our other work, but it was part of our job. And they kept us honest.

    It's worth remembering that public servants have many masters: their minister; the executive; the government, including opposition parties; the public of New Zealand; the head of their agency and via her or him, the State Services Commissioner. That's a very difficult balancing act, and as far as I know, it's not all that common in the private sector (i.e. having many masters, within the context of your job, not just one).

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1306 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    Oh, and I've seen some pretty good instances of senior civil servants speaking the plain, unvarnished truth to ministers, and heard of, from a first hand source, one instance of a civil servant advising the minister that the proposed action would be a very courageous thing to do. (In Yes Minister, whenever Jim Hacker was about to do something stupid / silly / disadvantageous / whatever, Sir Humphrey would advise him that it was a very courageous course of action.) To the Minister's credit, he and the rest of the room fell about laughing, before he agreed that he would not take that particular action.

    It's worth remembering that civil servants can give all the good advice in the world, but ultimately the minister decides, and that decision is often made for political reasons.

    Manawatu City • Since Nov 2006 • 1306 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    It's worth remembering that civil servants can give all the good advice in the world, but ultimately the minister decides, and that decision is often made for political reasons.

    Yes, agreed Deborah. And that's fine if the accountability mechansims, including the OIA work. 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. If that is for political reasons - effectively, they have different values from that of those advising them - so be it, and the public is enabled to make up it's own mind. I think this is how the system is supposed to work, isn't it?

    Or as Judith Aitken put it in 1997:

    "A large number of briefing papers to Ministers are now published. These include, for example, most of the briefing papers from departments to an incoming government. It is not unusual for Ministers to introduce policies which ignore or run counter to the advice of their officials. Where this happens there is often comment in the media that Ministers have not adopted the advice of their officials. Ministers may be called upon to justify their policies, which they usually do by reference to the democratic process and the need to take into account the wishes of their electors. The situation does not appear to be particularly embarrassing to either the Ministers or the departments involved. Indeed it could be argued that one of the consequences of the Official Information Act is that it has helped to reduce the politicisation of the public service by making it more obvious if advice is partisan."

    If this is no longer the case, and the views of 'Public Service Manager' accurately reflect the attitudes towards the OIA within government, then we should ask what has occurred in the last 11 years to change the situation.

    In any event, your description of how you handled OIAs when in the public service is laudable, but it's a far cry from the attitudes expressed by the original poster. What interests me is whether the more prevailing view within government is yours or that of 'Public Service Manager'. And if the latter, what can be done to alter it.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 197 posts Report Reply

  • Don Christie,

    But we're never going to do it while these beat-ups carry on.

    For this we can partly blame the party of small government, Act. Hide's 'perk busting" type antics have had the counter intuitive affect of making government hugely risk averse. I agree with the comments about being accountable, but when this tips into stagnation and fear you know something is wrong.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1615 posts Report Reply

First ←Older Page 1 2 3 Newer→ Last

Post your response…

Please sign in using your Public Address credentials…

Login

You may also create an account or retrieve your password.