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Success and Failure

Success and Failure

By Rodney Hide

We pay the Department of Child, Youth and Family Services to look after neglected and abused children.

Last week it received another damning report. The department doesn¹t even know how many children it has in its care.

It was bad enough that CYF had no record of the call from Coral Burrows¹ Dad. He had rung concerned about her welfare. CYF initially denied receiving his call but had to admit later that they had. Their failure to notify the call is now under investigation.

CYF¹s failure to know about the call is bad. But how bad is it that they don¹t know how many children they have in their care? That¹s a disgrace.

To quote from the report exactly: ³There is a lack of basic, reliable data on its activities such as numbers of children and young people in the system.²

CYFs would sack us as parents if we didn¹t know how many children we were looking after. They would make sure our kids were taken from us. But how good a parent substitute is CYF? It doesn¹t even know how many children it is supposed to be looking after.

But does CYF get fired? Not a chance. No one in the Department has even been censured.

The Treasury and Ministry of Social Development review of Child, Youth and Family found the problems at CYF to be ³deep and systemic².

CYF spent over $1 million last year on bed nights that it didn¹t need and didn¹t use. That was a $1 million just thrown away.

But once again, CYF¹s problems are no one¹s fault. The ³systems² weren¹t right. There isn¹t enough money. It just‹like‹ happened.

To show she cares, Minister Ruth Dyson has flicked the service another $127 million over the next three years. There is good reason to believe that this won¹t make any difference.

After the last damning report, the government boosted CYF¹s annual budget by $100 million or 50 percent from $200 million in 1999 to $300 million now. That boost made no difference.

The ³penalty² for failure in government is a bigger budget: you screw up and you get more money.

That¹s not how it works for taxpayers who pay for government. When we screw up we pay for it. A business that performed as badly as CYF would be bust.

Those in charge would be out of a job‹whether the screw up was their fault or not.

A business that doesn¹t deliver loses customers. Those customers take their business elsewhere. That means the business gets its funding cut off.

But a government department that doesn¹t deliver gets its funding boosted. How perverse is that?

We now pay government sector bosses big salaries equivalent to their private sector counterparts. That¹s because they are now supposed to be accountable.

But where is the accountability? Not only does no one get fired‹no one even gets fingered as responsible. The cause of every problem in government is invariably attributed to taxpayers not providing the department with enough money to do its job.

The week before the CYF¹s bombshell, Te Puni Kokiri was the ³the agency that¹s causing the Government the most concern². TPK gets $50 million a year and is primarily a policy advisor to government.

TPK couldn¹t even answer simple questions put to the Minister in parliament. The result was that Minister Parekura Horomia lost confidence in his own department.

Once again, it turns out it was no one¹s fault. The States Services Commissioner investigated and wrote another report. It turns out that TPK was under stress because it had been given so much money to administer ­ and I further stressed it by trying to find out what TPK had done with it.

The problems were with the ³systems,² the ³resourcing² and the ³capability². No one¹s fault, see?‹except maybe mine.

So TPK now has a minder. The States Services Commission is now going to ³babysit² the department. The Treasury, the PM¹s Department, and the SSC are going to assist it develop a strategic plan.

The Treasury, State Services Commission and the Ministry of Social Development are likewise going to babysit CYF. CYF¹s CEO Jackie Pivac must get these agencies¹ permission before she can spend the extra money that government has promised her department. CYF will be under outside management for next two years.

Both TPK and CYFs have been taken over by other departments. Clearly the government has no faith in their CEOs¹ abilities. If they did, these CEOs would still be in charge of their departments. It¹s easy to see why the government has no faith in them. But the CEOs are neither demoted nor fired.

CYF¹s CEO Jackie Pivac gets $250,000 a year. TPK¹s CEO Leith Comer gets $290,000. They have screwed up big time. Their Departments have had to be taken over from them. But still they get paid.

Our government departments are still ³gliding on². It¹s just that now they get the corporate offices and the corporate pay‹ without corporate responsibility.

Rodney Hide is an MP and a member of the board of the Institute for Liberal Values.

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