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The Standard

Let’s play blame the public servant

Written By: - Date published: 8:55 am, July 4th, 2014 - 49 comments
Categories: john key, national - Tags: ,

public service whipping dog

In days gone by the concept of Ministerial Responsibility would mean that any significant failing by a Department would see the responsible Minister take the blame for what happened.  Following the Malaysian diplomat incident it appears to have been replaced by a substitute concept, that not only is the Minister not responsible but the Government is entitled to attack a public servant in an attempt to divert political blame.

If this sounds somewhat extreme you only have to consider John Key’s recent statement to see that it actually appears to be Government Policy.  From Stuff:

A mid-level foreign affairs official appears set to take the blame for an incident in which a foreign diplomat accused of attempted rape was allowed to leave the country, a move his government thought had New Zealand’s blessing.

Yesterday Prime Minister John Key dismissed questions about whether Foreign Minister Murray McCully should resign, saying he would not accept it if he did, because McCully had been let down by officials.

He signalled that a Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who left the possible impression that New Zealand was not clear that it wanted the man to face justice here should assess their career options.

‘‘If that person doesn’t have clarity about that position then they need to think very strongly about whether they’re in the right job,’’ Key said. The situation had added to the distress of the victim by creating ambiguity.

‘‘That led to a situation that is unacceptable to me, and I think it is very distressing for the woman,’’ Key said.

There is to be an independent inquiry into how the ambiguity over New Zealand’s position was created, and why it took so long for Mfat to inform the Government that Malaysia believed it had acted in accordance with New Zealand’s wishes.  I am not sure why there needs to be one.  Key has clearly made his mind up already and told the public what the result will be.  This will make any potential Employment dispute interesting.  An employer is meant to have an open mind and give the employee a chance to make submissions before making a decision in a disciplinary matter and Key’s mind is clearly closed.

And this situation could have been managed better if McCully had not in a panic released into the public domain the two inter government communications without checking the background.  This required a public response by the Malaysian Government and instead of the situation being resolved through diplomatic channels it was resolved publicly through the media.  McCully let short term political considerations outweigh relationships with an important friendly nation.

Presuming that New Zealand did give a nod and a wink to Malaysia that they could remove their Diplomat from the country and presuming McCully had no hand in formulating this position and did not even know this was happening then the conclusion must be that MFAT is not working properly.  And the cause?  The Dominion Post editorial this morning gently suggests that the McCully reforms are to blame.

There remains a suspicion, after all, that the present shambles has its roots in the disastrous restructuring of the ministry under McCully’s watch. That “redisorganisation” led to a revolt of the ministry’s most senior staff and then to an apparently botched witchhunt ordered by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

The whole project was misconceived and mismanaged, based as it was on the principle that the ministry could operate with far fewer experts. McCully blamed it all on his CEO, saying it was his idea and he had to face the music. This is nonsense. No bureaucrat would persist with a major restructuring that his minister opposed.

So now there will be an inquiry to find out who made such a hash of the Malaysian affair. Unfortunately, that inquiry will be narrowly focused and will not look at the wider problem of the botched restructuring and its effects.

This Government has a clear pattern of behaviour.  “Reform” Government departments by stripping out resources.  Then blame individuals when the inevitable happens and performance drops.

49 comments on “Let’s play blame the public servant”

  1. One Anonymous Bloke 1

    Personal responsibility means it’s someone else’s fault.

  2. Steve Reeves 2

    Yes, a government of cowards. Great example to the rest of NZ, not to mention the rest of the world.

    And gratefully emulated by managers all around the country.

    And it does raise the very real question: what ARE ministers responsible for?

    There must be something, because they get paid at a level that suggests they have some for something.

    • Draco T Bastard 2.1

      And gratefully emulated by managers all around the country.

      What do you mean emulated? Being poor managers is where National learned, comprehensively, to be an even worse government.

  3. cogito 3

    From 3News:

    Key – “”If that person doesn’t have clarity about that position, then they ought to think very strongly about whether they’re in the right job.” :( :( :(

    Hopefully voters will take the same approach to Key himself on Sept 20th as “clarity” about his accountability to NZers is a concept that appears to completely escape his comprehension.

    • framu 3.1

      which raises the question of where did they get the lack of clarity from?

      to pin a lack of clarity on the staff member, without even looking at management and its structures, then publicly claim they should quit is appalling leadership

  4. karol 4

    This is disgraceful behaviour from John key. He has publicly condemned a public servant, without due process. A public servant cannot defend themselves publicly. Shameful and cowardly behaviour from arse-covering Key.

    • cogito 4.1

      A picture of a reptile or a rat would be highly appropriate at this point.

      • North 4.1.1

        ShonKey Python – no whakapapa to Monty Python. The latter hilarious directed chaos. The former chilling directed malevolence. Camouflaged with Everyman but devoid of his values.

    • Mary 4.2

      And if someone questions Key about this he will just say “Oh no, I wasn’t at all suggesting the person should be fired. That’s entirely a matter for MFAT and the investigation. I was merely commenting on what happened. It could’ve been about anyone. I certainly wasn’t attempting to interfere in that process or in what is clearly an operational matter, and it would be highly inappropriate for me to do so.” Now let’s see what happens to that job. Is it possible Allen could really arrive at a conclusion other than the public servant having to “rethink their career options” after prime minister comes out with remarks like that? Key is filth.

  5. Weepu's beard 5

    To me there is a correlation between this sort of blame game and the culture of Maori blame and poverty blame which has been fostered and legitimised all across the spectrum of the right.

    The stench of our increasingly disharmonious society is coming from the 9th floor.

  6. Chooky 6

    Reminds me a bit of Cave Creek where DOC was absolutely gutted of personnel on the Coast and then some poor DOC manager who had a huge overload of work did not check the building of the platform and the tragedy occurred

    ….except in this case after blaming the DOC manager ….the HOD of DOC resigned and then I think the Minister for DOC also resigned

    ….but personally I thought the Government should also have been called to account for this tragedy because it was responsible for cutting crucial DOC workers and creating an impossible work overload.

    • Chooky 6.1

      my point is…the Minister should resign

      …and of course …. if it can be proved that there was a cover up at the highest levels or a political trade-off with Malaysia ….then the Prime Minister’s integrity is called into question as well.

    • Anne 6.2

      ….except in this case after blaming the DOC manager ….the HOD of DOC resigned and then I think the Minister for DOC also resigned.

      My recollection too Chooky. The Labour minister responsible for DOC was Whanganui’s Russell Marshall and I think he resigned because “it happened on his watch”.

      One can imagine the yells of “disgrace, disgrace” from sections of the media if he hadn’t resigned, but when it is a National minister the silence is deafening.

      • Draco T Bastard 6.2.1

        One can imagine the yells of “disgrace, disgrace” from sections of the media if he hadn’t resigned, but when it is a National minister the silence is deafening.

        QFT

  7. bad12 7

    i don’t MS have an iota of belief that ‘government reforms’ lead to ‘wrong advice’ being given to the Malaysian’s with regard to the Government’s supposed wishes to have the alleged offender remain in New Zealand to face the accusations,

    My point is this, until the media approached the High Court and had the suppression orders lifted what had both McCully and Slippery the Prime Minister publicly said about this fiasco,

    Nothing!!!

    Not a peep, not one word, yet the pair of them, McCully and the PM, knew of the arrest, and, neither of them saw fit to ask even one follow up question of their officials either in MFAT or the Office of the Prime Minister itself???,

    Until that is???,

    Until the news media went to the High Court and had the various suppression orders lifted from the initial charges laid in the District Court, what was it, 7 weeks after the fact???,

    SO, while suppression orders were in place, its deep silence about the whole incident from both McCully and the PM, the whole incident is neatly wrapped up, swept under the carpet, the diplomat removed,

    My belief is that the above is exactly what the Prime Minister and His Foreign Affairs Minister wanted to occur, AND, that it is very likely that Official Information Requests will at some time uncover communications between the highest level of Government and the highest level of Police which indicate to the Police that as this matter was covered by diplomatic immunity the suppression orders that were sought in the District Court by Police were necessary as a matter of National Security…

    • mickysavage 7.1

      You will see bad12 that I said “[p]resuming that New Zealand did give a nod and a wink to Malaysia that they could remove their Diplomat from the country and presuming McCully had no hand in formulating this position and did not even know this was happening …”

      I agree that the OIAs could be very interesting and the suggested complete lack of knowledge of what was happening is strange. The story was obviously big and for Key and McCully to be completely indifferent to it seems wrong.

      • dv 7.1.1

        McCully has said it was the biggest issue in a decade.
        Bizarre he took no further notice.

        And how much of the internal structure lead to the problem.

      • bad12 7.1.2

        Wasn’t a criticism MS, although i admit it could be read as such, the dates of the initial lodging of the appeal to the High Court by the media to have the suppression orders lifted may be of interest/importance in the timeline,

        It is likely that the PM/ McCully knew of this occurrence and some attempt may have occurred then to created confusion within MFAT as to what the Government required,

        That is probably a machiavellian step too far tho, i believe that both of them, the PM and McCully,after the suppression orders were put in place simply thought ”job well done” thinking that no-one was going to have the suppression orders lifted and thus no-one would ever know,

        It is also pretty much what i would term a ”given” that the Judge in the original appearance at the District Court would have been ”briefed” on the issue of diplomatic immunity and the necessity of suppressing all the details of the case making the whole appearance of the accused simply a pro forma exercise,

        Under what auspices such a briefing took place, National Security/Office of the Prime Minister/Ministry of Justice/Police/MFAT, there is likely to be an email trail between all these organizations, is hard to ascertain…

        • Tracey 7.1.2.1

          and lets look a little further. we are told

          minister knew nothing. asked nothing after may 10
          ceo knew nothing. asked nothing.
          head of protocol must be good cos she just got made ambassador to brasil

          believing all of the above we then must believe that a mid level staffer at protocol woke up one day… with no precedent and no authority and decided to overule govt wishes on this?

          no wonder tui signs are gone. couldnt bring themselves to mock this govt..

          • srylands 7.1.2.1.1

            Why don’t you think that is plausible?

            • Tracey 7.1.2.1.1.1

              Because unlike you, i dont believe a mid level staffer would decide to enter into such discussions without the authority.

              • McFlock

                My guess is that slylands routinely exceeds his authority (and level of intellectual competence)

              • Tracey

                ” c Initial reports are that the officials involved were highly experienced. ” srylands

                If that is a true statement of facts then it makes it even less plausible that more than one official would work to directly contradict the government without authority.

                If the officials had gone maverick, then allen must go, because after two years he hasnt changed the culture mccully brought him in for. Thats over 1.2m wasted on his salary.

            • freedom 7.1.2.1.1.2

              http://thestandard.org.nz/lets-play-blame-the-public-servant/#comment-844131

              in case you missed it, you have a straightforward question awaiting an answer

            • bad12 7.1.2.1.1.3

              SSLands, just for once in your miserable trail of comments can you perhaps attempt to make a lucid point,

              Tell me, do you think on His appearance in the District Court with only the duty solicitor as representation that the alleged offender and the Judge presiding didn’t know exactly what was going to happen,

              The Police do not usually seek blanket suppression orders when criminal cases come befor the courts, why did the Police seek the blanket suppression orders in this case…

              • Macro

                In these cases suppression is automatic – not for the offender – but to protect the “victim” (so I understand) from an interview on “morning report” with a law prof discussing the matter.

  8. Jack 8

    Smoke & Mirrors Stuff just like the Dong Liu Affair, “Transperancy” is a foreign word, very scary country we are living in at present. We just need the facts rather than a game of charades being played out in the media.

  9. veutoviper 9

    Thanks for this post, MS – and love the cartoon.

    The Stuff article really raised my blood pressure this morning although I read it last night. What got my goat this morning was the change of its title to ” Mfat official takes blame” – as if this had already happened.

    The Herald also now has an article which gets even more specific as to the likely victim.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11287221

    At the very bottom of this article about Rizalman wanting to delay his return to NZ is this statement:

    Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key has directly criticised the MFAT deputy chief of protocol who gave Malaysia the impression New Zealand was happy for Rizalman to leave the country and escape the charges. (My bold)

    Time and time again Key and his Miinisters have claimed that they cannot interfere in ‘operational matters’ of their various Ministries – as McCully has also claimed in this case.

    But here we have the PM not only preempting the results of the internal Clayton’s review of MFAT’s actions in this fiasco, but virtually naming the sacrificial lamb.

    This not only is an interference but also raises major issues in respect of employment law IMO.

    AND have they not learnt from the other recent Rebstock review of the MFAT leaks where three MFAT officials were all but named in the review leading to court action and a lot of adverse publicity. On that occasion, McCully was also involved.

    http://www.google.co.nz/url?url=http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/politics/9513418/Diplomats-reject-Rebstock-report-findings&rct=j&frm=1&q=&esrc=s&sa=U&ei=ec61U451g6mTBc_1gPAJ&ved=0CCwQFjAH&sig2=CYU7aZ1zJGarU3V34ajWMA&usg=AFQjCNHT-7gbTIKwEFZIPsUqt9GYnC8maA

  10. Sable 10

    Can’t imagine why anyone would want to work for these political douche bags. Talk about enthusiasm in the service of a crappy cause…

  11. Clemgeopin 11

    @MICKYSAVAGE or anyone.

    I posted this on mcCully in Trouble article yesterday, but no one commented on it. Here it is. What do you think?

    “This.important matter has been so murky, shady and dodgy, with lots of spin, blame shifting, abrogation of responsibility, misleading of the PUBLIC and passing the buck, that I think an urgent parliamentary privileges committee investigation is necessary to question the people involved and to flush out the real truth”

  12. ianmac 12

    Key is in an impossible position. (Poor lamb. Toughen up Sweetie.) He cannot afford another Ministerial failure of McCulley to add to the Collins, Williamson, debacles so close to an Election. Perception.

    • Captain Pugwash 12.1

      I don’t want to see Murray McCulley bagged too much; we need to keep the door closed, as much as possible, on Colin Craig, and the “flat earthers” in “Colin Craig’s Conservative Party” (CCCP). On another note, back in the day I seem to remember at the Olympics, the athletes of the Soviet Union had CCCP on their singlets.

    • aerobubble 12.2

      Worse. He called the election earlier than usual. He didn’t see that politics would get an extension.

      He apologized to Malaysia before he apologized to the victim for McCully’s depts bungling.

      And then, finally, why was McCully being misled, and why isnt he angry about it. Either it was meant to play out like this, and McCully takes a popularity hit in his constituency leaving room for CC. Or, McCully has lost control of his dept. Or both.

      But note Cunliffe is now off the news.

  13. dv 13

    When is MFAT going to leak again?

  14. Ad 14

    Well said Mickey.

    Enjoy congress – wrap up warm.

  15. srylands 15

    “In days gone by the concept of Ministerial Responsibility would mean that any significant failing by a Department would see the responsible Minister take the blame for what happened.”

    You are quite wrong.

    The State Sector Act states that CEs are responsible for “the department’s or departmental agency’s responsiveness on matters relating to the collective interests of government”

    That is exactly what this failing was about.

    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1988/0020/latest/DLM129548.html

    The Cabinet Manual states:

    “Ministers decide both the direction and the priorities for their departments. They should not be involved in their departments’ day-to-day operations. In general terms, Ministers are responsible for determining and promoting policy, defending policy decisions, and answering in the House on both policy and operational matters. Officials are responsible for supporting Ministers in carrying out their ministerial functions.”

    http://cabinetmanual.cabinetoffice.govt.nz/3.5

    Also you have cited no evidence that this failing was in any way related to resourcing. Initial reports are that the officials involved were highly experienced.

    In summary there is absolutely no convention that states that the “Minister is always responsible” when Government administration goes wrong. In New Zealand its is usually quite the opposite. If you are capable of honest reflection you will know that Helen Clark applied this distinction with rigour.

    Politically I am not sure what you are trying to achieve.

    • framu 15.1

      ok – so labour has more ethics and morality than the nats then – thanks for pointing that out

      but what do you think about key sticking his big oaffish foot into this – key is directly involving himself in operational matters to the point where he is potentially breaking employment law – whats your opinion of that?

      • Tracey 15.1.1

        cant see where the manual says mccully must run for cover when his dept fucks up and not front in parliament… Not just once…

    • Tracey 15.2

      so you ARE familiar with the cabinet manual? You recently appeared singularly unable to grasp breaches of the “highest ethical standards”

  16. ianmac 16

    Oops! On National Radio at lunchtime they broadcast the concern that Key has offended against the staff of Foreign Affairs by naming him before an enquiry has happened.
    “‘‘If that person doesn’t have clarity about that position then they need to think very strongly about whether they’re in the right job,’’ Key said.”
    This is so wrong but so typical of Key. “He has broken several rules,” the report said.

    • veutoviper 16.1

      I assume you mean the item starting at 4.37 in on Midday Report.

      http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/middayreport/audio/2602155/midday-news-for-4-july-2014

      Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

      The item addresses concerns expressed by Richard Wagstaff, PSA, that Key has broken several rules under the Cabinet Manual and the State Sector Act by making the remarks he has made about MFAT staff. This article did not name the official or officials per se (who could be a ‘her’, Ianmac!)

      However, as I noted in my comment at 9 above, the Herald this morning in effect did so, by mentioning the deputy head of the Protocol section, at the end of this article.

      http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11287221

      Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Key has directly criticised the MFAT deputy chief of protocol who gave Malaysia the impression New Zealand was happy for Rizalman to leave the country and escape the charges.

      I don’t have time right now to identify the particular sections of the Cabinet Manual and the SS Act that Wagstaff was referring to (but I know they are there somewhere).

      Perhaps, S…. Rylands should identify these sections for us! And pigs might fly ….

      • North 16.1.1

        SSlands is obviously super cognisant of the fact that too, too much now in this ocean of shit governance ShonKey is the guy who squeaks out, the guy who NEVER carries the can. And that people are concluding that it’s just too good to be true. That’s what worries SS. Hence his painfully constipated efforts to establish that there never was such a thing as ‘ministerial responsibility’. Righteo ! Algud !

        The sneering conceit, the bloated barefaced entitlement of it reached new heights with McCully’s apology……..wait for it…….to ShonKey. There wasn’t a 21 year old female victim here who might be entitled to an apology at all. Oh no……..down on the knees grovelling slavishly before His ShonKeyness. Who reclines a la the emperor with no clothes, forgives his subject McCully, then leans forward to menace an MFAT employee. Way to go ShonKey !

        Women vote too SS. The snowball starts to roll……

  17. North 17

    Get real – ‘personal responsibility’ is only for those ‘down there’, the underclass as defined by those who shall not carry responsibility. Listen thee and behold……this is the word of the GodKey.

    I fear that something really terrible is happening to New Zealand. Time frame – who knows ? Tyranny is not always reflected a la Ceaucescu.

  18. dimebag russell 18

    @slylands.
    all verbiage.
    government is not a corporation.
    when the ministers department screws up then he is responsible.
    depending on the severity of the event then the minister may be required to resign.
    that is the principle of responsible government as taught even in primary schools.
    if you dont understand that then you are just talking a whole lot of nonsense to confuse people and doubt that there is any meaning to anything.

  19. dimebag russell 19

    anyway the key government is gone in spetember.

  20. BLiP 20

    This latest example of the John Key-led National Ltd™ government’s “blame culture” seems to me to be a microcosmic example of the macrocosmic effects currently being delivered to New Zealand society. Its as if the complete lack of morals required by an international money-changer to generate a fortune has now come to bear in the running of a government. Just as the world of money-changers produces a stready stream of ill-fortuned and uninformed investors for consumption by an elite few, this corrupt approach to the running of society produces a steady stream of victims in order to shelter perpetrators from accountability.

    • freedom 20.1

      +1

    • cogito 20.2

      Let us not forget that money-changers were thrown out of the temple.

      Time now to throw out money-changers out of government.

      Filth is filth, then and now.

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