Blame the Officials

Written By: - Date published: 9:59 am, July 5th, 2014 - 7 comments
Categories: accountability, conservative party, International, national, Parliament, Politics, public services, same old national - Tags: , , ,

Bryan Gould workingReposted from Bryan Gould

Murray McCully draws a substantial salary as a Minister and seems to enjoy the prestige and perks that come with being New Zealand’s Foreign Minister. He doesn’t seem quite so keen on facing up to his responsibilities.

What is admitted by all parties to have been a pretty substantial mishandling by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the saga involving a Malaysian diplomat and the criminal behaviour that he is alleged to have committed against a New Zealand woman is not, it seems, something for which Mr McCully accepts responsibility. We are led to understand that he saw no need to do more than to blame his officials.

Yet his job, under our system of parliamentary government, is to be accountable to parliament for the performance – and failures – of his department. Those failures, on this occasion, have put at risk the justice that a New Zealand victim of a serious crime is entitled to expect from our courts and have jeopardised the good relations we have enjoyed with a Commonwealth partner.

Mr McCully, of course, has – as they say – “form” on this issue. He has a record not only of sliding out from under his responsibility to parliament but for denying the whole doctrine of ministerial responsibility on which our system of government is based.

Back in 2012, having appointed a Chief Executive who knew literally nothing of diplomacy and with the explicit goals of re-shaping the Ministry so as to save up to $40 million, he had declared his intention to replace diplomats with businessmen and proposed to remove from those who remained the job security that would be essential if their services were to be retained.

He authorised the spending of $9.2 million on a “cost-saving” plan – money spent mainly on outside consultants, reflecting his apparent belief that expertise in diplomacy counted for little and that his Ministry was incapable of reforming itself.

But when the disastrous nature of the plan became apparent, and the threat to New Zealand’s trade and foreign relations too serious to be ignored, the Minister ran for cover. It was only then that we were assured that the plan had all along been Chief Executive John Allen’s idea, and that the Minister had been so disengaged that he had barely noticed what was going on.

He went further, elevating the whole doctrine of what we must now call “Ministerial irresponsibility” to new heights – or depths. He solemnly proclaimed that, as Minister, he was no more than “the purchaser of the Ministry’s services” – an astonishing new take on what the role of a Minister is and should be, and betraying a shocking ignorance of what parliamentary government is about.

On this view, Ministers would be merely shoppers in the market place – looking for the best bargain, weighing up where they can get the best deal. Their departments would be simply just another possible provider, no longer part of government or of what might reasonably be called the public service; they would be autonomous bodies –free agents, not subject to Ministerial direction – competing, like any other provider, for the Minister’s attention and custom.

This doctrine, if accepted, would be yet another step towards unaccountable government by the executive. We are already a long way down that track – in effect, governed by “TeamKey” – an entity that apparently expects to treat parliament as simply a rubber stamp.

The duty owed by our MPs is increasingly seen as not to their constituents through parliament but to their political parties – as witness the surprise and criticism that greeted the decision by two Labour MPs to vote against their party on the issue of the logging of native trees that had fallen in the recent storms because they believed, rightly or wrongly, that this was in their constituents’ interests.

I know from my own experience that an MP feels many claims on his or her allegiance. Each new decision is likely to require the reconciliation of the often conflicting interests of the voters who sent the MP to parliament and of the political party to which the MP belongs – and that is to say nothing of the values and views that are held by the MP himself or herself.

Under the McCully doctrine, however, parliament and the voters count for little. The main responsibility undertaken by Ministers in respect of accountability is apparently to suppress public discussion on difficult issues and to negotiate the questions put by the media so as to limit any adverse fallout for their party. Public officials, in line with the general devaluing of the public service as a whole, are convenient sacrificial lambs if things go wrong.

We can see how far this doctrine might take us in another little episode that is likely to involve Murray McCully. John Key admits to “considering” whether or not Murray McCully should contest his East Coast Bays seat or should step aside in favour of the Conservative Party.

Any bets on whether our Foreign Minister will decide to stick by his loyal constituents, or will abandon them in order to serve the interests of TeamKey?

7 comments on “Blame the Officials”

  1. karol 1

    This:

    Under the McCully doctrine, however, parliament and the voters count for little. The main responsibility undertaken by Ministers in respect of accountability is apparently to suppress public discussion on difficult issues and to negotiate the questions put by the media so as to limit any adverse fallout for their party. Public officials, in line with the general devaluing of the public service as a whole, are convenient sacrificial lambs if things go wrong.

    We can see how far this doctrine might take us in another little episode that is likely to involve Murray McCully. John Key admits to “considering” whether or not Murray McCully should contest his East Coast Bays seat or should step aside in favour of the Conservative Party.

    If only more MSM journalists spent critical time on the ways teamKey is udnermining democracy.

    Good on David Shearer for continuing to raise the issue of John Key’s prejudgment of an MFAT employee.

    On Thursday Prime Minister John Key dismissed questions that Foreign Minister Murray McCully should offer his resignation, but said the official who created the confusion should consider their career options if they were not clear that New Zealand wanted Rizalman to face justice here.

    ”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.

    Shearer said the investigation into what went wrong was now tainted by Key’s comments.

    ”Mr Key has decided who is to blame and wants action taken to protect himself and Minister McCully. He’s taken on the role of judge, jury and executioner,” Shearer said.

    ”McCully has said he will have an investigation. But Key’s words show that this will just a whitewash because the culprit has already been found, so that no ministerial responsibility will required.”

    PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said Mfat chief executive John Allen needed to step up to ensure ministers kept their noses out of operational matters.

  2. tinfoilhat 2

    What’s Brian Gould doing these days ?

    oops just went to his link and answered my own question

  3. RedBaronCV 3

    I’ve just been over reading Andrew Geddis who I have a high degree of respect for but on this he is saying below -there are other interests:

    I have a great deal of difficulty with the two statements below. There was also a comment from some professor or other recently about how we needed to do more peacekeeping if we wanted a UN seat on something or rather.

    By default are these people saying that a high paying job for Tim Groser or some other old individual comes ahead of the welfare of young women being assaulted or that young people need to be killed to ensure that these high paying jobs for old people become a reality? That young people need to be killed or raped to ensure old people jobs?

    If Tim or somebody else needs that UN job so badly couldn’t they volunteer for active service and do their own dirty work instead of getting some one else to do it for them? In a funny sort of way this also ties in with DC saying there are attitudes out there that abuse individuals.

    Andrew said:
    ” Which can then put other national objectives in jeopardy … because did anyone notice that New Zealand is presently trying to sew up a sprawling free trade agreement with lots of different nations, as well as frantically lobbying lots of different nations to support our bid for a seat on the UN Security Council?”

    “hey clearly did prioritise the continuing good relations with Malaysia (an important broker in the Islamic world, I would note, whose votes we will want in the upcoming Security Council race”

    I can agree generally with this one as diplomacy is about not getting involved in an escalating tit for tat retaliation with other nations.
    “Punishing other countries for refusing to let our courts try their diplomats invites reciprocal measures. And in the real world of carefully calibrated diplomatic niceties, reciprocal measures can escalate.”

  4. Jrobin 4

    Great post Brian. The predominant purpose of Ministers in this govt does indeed seem to be ” suppressing discussion of difficult issues”. I guess it always has been though, but now that we have more access to information through the Internet there are more channels for dissenting views. Increase in corporate power along the lines of the American model is the part that worries me the most. Especially with TPPA looming. What a grotesque little neocon puppet and pimp Mc Cully is. I wonder how Shane Jones is going in his new ‘profession’ Not quite the oldest profession that is, but revoltingly similar.

    • JanM 4.1

      I was in Rarotonga last week and there was SJ’s splashed all over the local papers while he wittered on about the need for surveillance – eeeeek!

  5. Draco T Bastard 5

    Under the McCully doctrine, however, parliament and the voters count for little. The main responsibility undertaken by Ministers in respect of accountability is apparently to suppress public discussion on difficult issues and to negotiate the questions put by the media so as to limit any adverse fallout for their party. Public officials, in line with the general devaluing of the public service as a whole, are convenient sacrificial lambs if things go wrong.

    It’s another step upon the path of a return to feudalism that the 4th Labour government started us down. The aristocrats weren’t responsible for anything either.

  6. ianmac 6

    Good post Bryan. It baffles me that Mr Key and Mr McCully can just sidestep the accepted process like Ministerial Responsibility, or sidestep accepted process like tendering for the Sky Conference Centre and just carry on ignoring those who are outraged.
    I have a strong belief that Joyce/Key/McCulley/English are laughing at the naivety of we the people.
    Same expression seen on the faces of bullies who have the power and therefore the control. “Yeah? Wadda ya going to do about it punk? You and whose army?

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