Posts Tagged ‘NZ public service’

How do you humiliate a murderer?

July 20, 2008

It was inevitable, I suppose. News today that the inmates named in a Corrections Dept file left in a public place plan to sue for damages for “distress and humiliation” suffered when their personal details were made known.

I have to say that when I first heard about this episode I began to wonder whether it wasn’t a dirty trick designed to further undermine the Government. It followed a string of similar lapses by officials in the UK that are seen as damaging the Labour Government there.

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Immigration Service review: doing it right

May 19, 2008

By moving to set up a thorough, independent enquiry, the Government (a.k.a. Helen Clark) has recognised the seriousness of the corruption revealed at the Immigration Service.

It probably helped that she was very angry, too. She does not like being caught unawares, and her anger yesterday was palpable. “It’s fair to say the confidence of the Cabinet has been somewhat shattered” was the least of it.

It is great to see a quick (as these things go) response. Best of all, this will be a truly independent enquiry, and will therefore go a long way to restoring our bruised confidence in the integrity of our public service.

For one thing, Auditor-General Kevin Brady is nobody’s poodle. He’s the one whose criticism of various parties’ use of public money at the last election caused so much consternation in 2006, not least on the Ninth Floor. At the time the Herald editorialised that, “few public officials have performed their duties more bravely and honourably than … Kevin Brady.”

Also, the Auditor General has the power “to require documents and information to be handed over, and for evidence to be given under oath”, as the Herald puts it.

Importantly, the Auditor General gets to set the terms of reference. This is especially welcome, as much doubt has been cast over various enquiries in recent years due to overly tight terms of reference. Perhaps we have turned a corner here.

[Footnote: Strangely, in view of the praise heaped on Brady just 17 months ago, the Herald barely mentioned these aspects of yesterday’s announcement. Maybe this doesn’t fit the story that the paper is trying to tell?]

On public service

May 16, 2008

This week New Zealanders lost something important. We often boast about the absence of corruption in our public life. After all, we’re not a big and powerful nation, and certainly not rich, but we have our integrity. Or did.

Now, for the first time in our modern history, we cannot feel smug about the propriety of our public services. As Norightturn puts it, corruption in the Immigration Service, “seems to be widespread and pervasive”. The revelation that in a three year period 19 cases of serious offences were proven against IS staff, including theft, bribery and fraud, is staggering. (How many more are pending? Or were dropped for various reasons?)

When I joined the public service in the early 1980s, it was undeniably a cosy, relaxed place to work. These aspects were ruthlessly lampooned in the play Glide Time and the TV series Gliding On. A friend recently suggested that the play and its TV series spin-off may have damaged the reputation of the public service in unintended ways. They reinforced notions of priviledge, laxity and waste, as Ian Fraser’s review of the original production illustrates.

They presented a distorted view. They missed the strong sense of, well, public service, that was very evident at times. Various government departments had contributed in critical ways to building NZ’s society and economy, and there was a genuine pride in being part of that. I never heard the “public” disparaged. We all understood why we were there. We also understood that we must be studiously non-partisan.

I’m not sure that we can show a clear link between the growing prejudice of the time against the public service, and the reforms of the late 1980s, but it certainly felt that way at the time. Further, at that time, some of us warned that destroying the unified public service and letting faux private-sector managerialism loose would diminish much of what was good in our public services.

So it has been sad to watch the State Services Commission straining to explain away so much in recent years, and to see ministers fall. Other factors have played a part in this story, but when we come to look for solutions, perhaps we should look at what we threw away so lightly all those years ago.