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Howard's End: Arrogance In the Public Service

When Minister's in this Government admit they have difficulty in getting public servants to listen and comply with their instructions, it's time for a new coalition Government of parties who are able to bring the public service bureaucrats under control. Maree Howard writes.

Some years ago I remember then National Government Minister of Internal Affairs, Graham Lee, telling me that he received mountainous reams of paper and reports and it just wasn't possible to read them all and digest the implications.

I recall that he said Minister's often had no choice but to rely on advice. Sometimes, that advice turned out to be wrong.

I also recall before the 1999 election a senior public health manager telling me there was horror in some quarters of the public service when it was realised that Labour might become the new Government.

Last night, my long-standing concerns were apparently reconfirmed that nothing much has changed when ACC Minister, Hon Lianne Dalziel, addressed a group of around 40 people in Christchurch who had serious concerns about ACC.

Apparently she said, and I wasn't there so it can only be alleged, that when she became Minister she believed that it took more than a year for bureaucrats to come to terms with the fact that there was a new Government.

Apparently, she also told the meeting that she tells ACC of her concerns about them, but they don't always listen. She suggested that the new ACC Act, which became effective in April, should be given a year to work and then see what happens.

She conceded, allegedly, that long-term ACC claimants are often long-term because of ACC's past behaviour.

I greatly admire Ms Dalziel for fronting up to what are her bitter and angry accusers and for apparently being so candid. That is refreshing from a Minister and there should be more of it. But damn your system, "why are they hurting now?"

Or as Bob Geldoff said when speaking of global poverty " Damn your system, why are they hungry?"

Over the years I've seen many reports from public servants to their Minister's which have horrified me. It's almost as though it is they, the public servant manager, who wants to control the destiny of New Zealand and any Government is just an impediment to their grand plans.

It's the typical 'Yes Minister' Sir Humphrey Appelby syndrome which is certainly alive and well in this country.

Couple that bureaucratic mind-set and self-promotion with a Minister who is over-loaded with reports and advice, and it's not hard too see how something might be deliberately slipped through 'the system' and signed-off by the Minister without him or her really having the time to consider the full implications.

Ministerial advice and reports which cannot be digested in full, the volume of which has caused whole forests to be cut down, makes for a dysfunctional Government and a divided country.

There are major political issues with serious implications facing New Zealand and we don't need senior public servant managers who have a shameless self-serving world view of themselves, are dismissive of Minister's and the public, and are people users who look after themselves by exploiting other people.

This is the type arrogant CEO behaviour which caused companies such as Enron to dramatically fail. Some of the companies that are failing now, with more to come, are bigger than New Zealand in economic terms.

The arrogance of management, even in the public service, seems to be a global epidemic.

Tomorrow, I'm going to vote for a minor party in the fond hope that they might become part of the next coalition Government and justice in this country might finally prevail.

© Scoop Media

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