Franz Kafka was a 20th century writer who wrote about individuals finding themselves in surrealistic predicaments and being subject to incomprehensible bureaucratic powers. The word Kafkaesque has been used to describe “bizarre and impersonal administrative situations where the individual feels powerless to understand or control what is happening.”
I cannot help but wonder if Kiri Allen feels as if she is the subject of a Kafka novel, given what has happened to her this week. And the National Party inspired and what appears to be coordinated attacks in the media are worrying.
Things started off Tuesday of last week when in this Andrea Vance article the Department of Conservation stated publicly that it had raised concerns about the working relationships in Allan’s office more than a year previously and that one staffer had left her office early as a result.
According to DoC chief Penny Nelson:
One person chose to end their secondment early due to the working relationships in the office. Accordingly, I had discussions with my colleagues, including from Internal Affairs, which manages Ministerial Services, regarding support in the office.
No further concerns were subsequently brought to my attention, and I understand relationships improved.”
Requests for information from DoC, DIA, NEMA and the Public Service Commission were all made the day before by Vance and were all along the lines of if there has been any reports or complaints about inappropriate behaviour directed at staff by Allen.
At this time Allan had sought leave from work because of personal matters.
As stated by her:
Over the past few weeks I’ve really been struggling with mental health and wellness.
Triggered by personal circumstances, as well as other external things – even things like the cyclones having such a massive impact on our entire region.
“Sometimes things accumulate, and I hit a wall a few weeks ago. I kept going, showing up to events, smiling, giving speeches. But about a week ago, I had to be pretty honest with myself that I needed to put my mental well-being at the forefront of my focus.”
Then the next day Simeon Brown kept the story going by raising concerns about a mysterious text.
Again from Vance:
A mystery text message – kept secret by senior public servants – is at the centre of a controversy swirling around Cabinet Minister Kiritapu Allan, and is now the subject of a complaint to Parliament’s information watchdog.
Stuff revealed on Wednesday that a Department of Conservation employee, seconded to work with Allan chose to leave early last year because of concerns about “working relationships.” That saw DOC chief executive Penny Nelson take concerns to the Department of Internal Affairs, which manages Ministerial Services.
Allan, who returned to Parliament on Thursday after taking mental health leave, has said she “never had any formal allegations made against me in any way, shape, or form”.
At the same time as Stuff was investigating, the National Party was also asking questions. MP Simeon Brown, the party’s public services spokesperson, had lodged an Official Information Act request with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
He submitted the detailed list of questions after he heard reports of Allan, who is regional economic minister, withdrawing abruptly from an event.
The text in question was sent by MBIE deputy chief executive Robert Pigou. He said that the text does not express concerns about staff working in the office, there is no correspondence, formal or informal, between him and the Allen’s current private secretary for regional development in Allan’s office that refers to Allan’s behaviour, that no formal complaints have been made by staff about Allan’s conduct and no staff were removed from the office because of concerns. He also said that he has good relationships with staff, and is confident they would share with him any concerns about safety and wellbeing.
But this was clearly not enough for Vance.
Both Allen and Hipkins disputed the unsourced and undescribed allegations. They both emphasised that there has been no formal complaint about her behaviour.
And clearly Vance wanted to get the denial before she then released more details about the allegation.
On Thursday she posted this story:
A senior public servant, with decades of experience, says Cabinet Minister Kiritapu Allan “yelled and screamed” so loudly, staff in the office heard the telephone call.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they witnessed Allan’s interactions with younger staff members both from government agencies and her Beehive office in a meeting, as well as seeing her “absolutely berate” another official for 20 mins on another occasion.
Allan “strongly refutes” the allegations.
Another former senior official with a long history of public service, has also spoken to Stuff to confirm they had concerns about Allan’s dealing with staff. “Basically low trust and respect of public servants was [the] issue,” they said.
The article clearly relies on the “anonymous senior official”. Allen is being asked to respond to allegations without detail or names or time frames made by faceless senior officials who are breaking all sorts of understandings by speaking anonymously to a reporters.
Then today Vernon Small again in Stuff made comments suggesting that Allan’s future lies in the balance.
He relies heavily on the third hand reporting of unconfirmed comments from anonymous public servants when the only public servant who has gone on the record has confirmed that there are no formal complaints and that he would be confident that staff would share with him concerns about safety and wellbeing.
How Kafkaesque can you get.
Perhaps Allan has been too brusque with her behaviour on occasions. This would not be unknown. Not every politician is a Jacinda Ardern and Parliament’s history is replete with examples of bad behaviour.
But this story has strong elements of a manufactured dragged out pseudo crisis and one no doubt fuelled by National’s highly resourced sewerage collection unit. And the timing clearly implies at least an element of cooperation between National and the Press.
The timing was especially beneficial because the story broke at the time that Chris Hipkins was completing a very successful visit to China. Instead of discussing progress that had been made in the New Zealand China relationship he had to answer questions about an incident that have never been described in adequate detail.
National’s coffers are full and clearly their sewerage collection unit is going strong. Expect more of this sort of story in the next few months.