There is something rotten in the Ministry of Transport

Written By: - Date published: 8:29 am, July 20th, 2017 - 28 comments
Categories: employment, jobs, national, same old national, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, workers' rights, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags:

Radio New Zealand is reporting that the State Services Commission review of the handling of the whistleblowers at the Ministry of Transport will conclude that they were forced out of their jobs by Joanne Harrison, the woman whose actions they complained about and who was subsequently imprisoned for fraud against the Ministry.

From Radio New Zealand:

A State Services Commission investigation due to be made public today has concluded convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison forced whistleblowers out of the Transport Ministry in 2015.

RNZ understands the inquiry has vindicated whistleblowers who said they were forced from their jobs after they raised concerns about fake invoices Harrison was presenting and dubious travel she was taking.

Harrison stole nearly $750,000 while employed at the Transport Ministry and was sentenced this year to three and a half years in prison.

It is expected the results of inquiry will be made public later today, with the findings tipped to be highly critical of what went on at the ministry at the time.

The incident suggests that there is something very rotten in the Ministry.  It is appalling that loyal dedicated staff were restructured out of their roles because they tried to alert managers about Harrison’s criminal activity.

The problem for the Ministry is that it was not only a rogue manager’s actions that caused concern but the refusal of other managers to even accept there was a problem.

And the attempts by others within the Ministry to prevent Sue Moroney from doing her job and getting to the bottom of what was happening is deeply concerning.  Again from Radio New Zealand:

Documents obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry was going to claim that information about the fraudster Joanne Harrison did not exist – despite knowing that it did.

Harrison stole nearly $750,000 while employed at the Transport Ministry and was sentenced this year to three and a half years in prison.

Labour MP Sue Moroney used the Official Information Act to request information about taxpayer-funded flights to the Far North that Harrison had taken, and a restructure of the finance team that took place at the Ministry while she was employed there.

Emails obtained by RNZ show the Transport Ministry’s chief legal adviser David Bowden knew the information existed but was going to refuse to release it.

Mr Bowden said the financial restructure happened just outside the timeframe the MP had identified in her request, so the Ministry would say the information did not exist.

He said the Ministry would not release the costs of Harrison’s flights because the MP asked for information on flights to Kaitaia, whereas Harrison had flown to a different airport in the region.

This particular subterfuge was that bad that even Simon Bridges said that the information should be released.  His office is not afraid to try and hide and bury official information.  The recent attempt to persuade Kiwirail to hide a report seeking an improvement to Auckland’s rail system show how deep he can go.  But even Bridges saw that the stench from the Harrison incident was too much to hide.

Management have tried to portray the incident as them being victims of sophisticated fraud and could not be expected to have dealt with the problems caused.  I disagree.  The workers at MOT clearly saw what was happening and escalated this to their managers.  The fact that they lost their jobs over doing so is appalling.

They describe what happened in this Radio New Zealand article:

They said they believed raising those red flags about Harrison had cost them their jobs.

“I’ve got no doubt, in my own mind, but they’ve probably covered themselves – the way they do when they do restructures.

“When we raised issues sometimes we were told ‘you’re only here to pay the invoices and if they’re signed and approved that’s all you have to worry about’.

“But we were old school – and we were loyal and we were conscious of it being taxpayer money.”

They said the timing of the redundancies did not stack up either – being let go at the “busiest time of the year”.

“December was a huge payment run and we worked very hard that month and on the 10th of December three of us walked out of the finance division and a temp walked in.

“It’s incredible really – it did not make sense.”

I hope that they are written a large cheque not only for hurt and humiliation but also as a message to all Government Departments that workers jobs, particularly those who whistleblow, should be protected.

We currently exist in a cult of management where workers are just cogs to be moved around by managers whose jobs often depend on cog moving occurring.  Where worker jobs will be disestablished at the drop of a hat but a manager engaged in criminal activity will not be investigated because it might hurt her feelings.  And a management class that  distrust those “below” them.  That Joanna Harrison was able to thrive in such an atmosphere speaks volumes of how sick the current system is.

Current Auditor General Martin Matthews who was head of the MOT at the time is probably toast.  The Auditor General is meant to get on top of and deal with these sorts of incidents.

If there is a change of government then as a priority there needs to be a major review of management of all State entities.  Starting with the Ministry of Transport.

Update:  The report has been released.

From Radio New Zealand:

Ministry of Transport whistleblowers were forced out of their jobs too early and suffered “unnecessary hurt and humiliation” in a restructure process involving convicted fraudster Joanne Harrison, an investigation has found.

But a State Services Commission inquiry has concluded no staff were specifically made redundant because they spoke up.

Three former staff in the Ministry raised concerns about Harrison’s conduct on several occasions and subsequently lost their jobs in a restructure.

State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes has apologised to the whistleblowers in person and agreed to a confidential compensation package.

The highly critical inquiry, carried out by deputy State Services Commissioner Sandi Beatie, found they were made redundant due to the Ministry moving to an automated accounts process which was “legitimate” and “properly authorised”.

However, they “suffered disadvantage”, as the process was based on advice from Harrison.

I do not understand how the conclusion that no staff were made redundant because they spoke up.  But I am pleased at the apology and an offer of compensation has been made.

28 comments on “There is something rotten in the Ministry of Transport”

  1. esoteric pineapples 1

    “We currently exist in a cult of management”

    I think the problem is more to do with the fact that this government has completely politicised the Public Service so that people are in fear of losing their jobs if they don’t do what the government wants. This is pretty much what has been happening at DoC and MPI, for example.

    Adding to the drift towards corruption has been the outsourcing of public services to consultants and private companies. Some people in government get to say who is going to make money out of these services and direct them towards their cronies.

    • mickysavage 1.1

      Yep I hope there is a change of Government. And if there is there needs to be a total revamp of the public service.

      • OncewasTim 1.1.1

        Glad to see I’m not alone in advocating a complete review of the PS.
        It’s corporatisation has enabled it to become a series of little fiefdoms headed by snr management; where those at the coalface work in spite of their masters rather than because of them; where management are subjected to ‘minsterial whispers’…. all the things we were promised earlier reforms eould address
        Supposedly more efficient and effective….greater accountability….independence….all the buzzz. Exactly the opposite has happened.
        I can’t understand why opposition parties have not seen it as a political opportunity.
        Can someone name me a dept/ministry that isn’t a problem?

      • CLEANGREEN 1.1.2

        100% Micky Savage.

        I agree entirely.

        Out with this tied useless government that has left us in a big mess and in with the new!!!!!

  2. savenz 2

    Shocking. No wonder transport is such a basket case in NZ, with these fraudster idiots in charge, forcing out the honest employees and able to do so so easily.

  3. dukeofurl 3

    Transport wasnt a huge sprawling bureaucracy, I tried to look up staff numbers from State Services – the latest I could find was 2008??- which gave 174 FTE. I had heard more recent numbers were around 125 or so.

    Whats never been explained in a detailed way – they usually just use bumpf- of how an actual simple fraud which was detected by the people who do basic checks on payments was later passed as a real payment.

    For a person whos background was in Auditing and not Transport, the CEO seems to have a Napoleonic management style. Far too grand to go and talk to the staff who raised this issue. Was there an ‘executive row’, from which he never ventured ?

    • mickysavage 3.1

      I can’t understand why the invoice for the non existing company was not immediately checked into.

    • Sanctuary 3.2

      “…a person whos background was in Auditing and not Transport, the CEO seems to have a Napoleonic management style…”

      I am old enough to have noticed the increasingly heroic leadership style* of management in NZ. It is entirely due to a lack of workplace checks and balances on executive power, IMHO.

      I wonder if one of the hidden costs of the crushing of unionism was the removal of an important reality check on senior managers? I have come across several now in organisations of 1000-1500 FTE who behave like they are the head of Apple or BMW, complete with hermetically sealed off, palatial CEO and senior leadership team only sections of the office and the organisation reduced to an army of middle management, middle class careerist sycophants desperately climbing over the bodies of their colleagues in the hope they’ll get noticed by the Gods of the SLT and thus cured by touch of promotion to the golden class of whatever economic scrofula ails them. None of it is conducive to good decision making or enlightened understanding of the business. Nothing like a self-styled, bespoke suited Alexander the Great of industry being told “no” by a union rep in dirty overalls to keep him firmly grounded.

      *Defined as “…Heroic leadership is the pinnacle of leadership, conducted by a transformed and enlightened leader who seeks to transform and enlighten others.” It hardly needs commenting that when it comes to heroic leadership, many feel they qualify, but mostly they are just deluded egotists. Real heroic leaders do things like over-run the Persian Empire before they are 30.

      • Annie Cass 3.2.1

        “I wonder if one of the hidden costs of the crushing of unionism was the removal of an important reality check on senior managers?”
        Ya THINK?? Manage-munt has become rampant since effective worker representation got the bullet. That it has persisted and worsened says little for the collective intelligence of decision makers. And is it just me, or do professional management degrees inevitably produce heartless idiots who’ve long since forgotten that their staff are human?

  4. Penny Bright 4

    WHISTLE-BLOWERS VINDICATED!

    SACK THE (STOOD DOWN) AUDITOR-GENERAL MARTIN MATHEWS!

    What another absolute disgrace – proving AGAIN what utter CRAP is the ‘perception’ that NZ is ‘the least corrupt country in the world’!

    In my view – the wrong people were ‘restructured’ out of their MOT jobs.

    IMO they should have kept the decent ‘whistle-blowers’ and sacked their useless managers.

    Politically, I look forward to permanent removal of former MOT chief Martin Mathews from his (stood down) position as Auditor-General.

    How the hell did he ever get that job in the first place?

    How on EARTH can the public have confidence in Martin Mathews as Auditor-General, when this FRAUD was IMO, happening on HIS watch, under HIS nose?

    Unbelievable ….

    Penny Bright

    ‘Anti-privatisation / anti-corruption campaigner’

    2017 Independent candidate
    for Tamaki.

    • CLEANGREEN 4.1

      100% Penny – I see it all the time now, we are over taken by crime here now inside Government even.

      As far as it goes with Ministry of transport we have sen the deliberate wind down of this agency by this current government through the last nine years so they want to kill off the ministry and thank god we and many others have got most of the rail studies that this agency has produced in the last twenty years.

      look forward to this string where today our Group received a note from the Ministry that they have lost their own library files now!!!!!!

      Seems like the ghost of Hillary Clinton lurks yet again????

      Destroy the evidence so they can’t investigate us someone in National are thinking??

  5. Ad 5

    MoT could easily be merged into NZTA with little harm done.
    They have actively opposed public transport for years.

    • dukeofurl 5.1

      Its sort of super administrator ministry which moves the funds onto the NZTA for roads, Kiwirail, Metservice, Super gold card, Kaikoura road rebuild etc
      https://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/pdfs/estimates/v1/est17-v1-trans.pdf

      You would think a ‘funder ministry’ would have its payments system well set up to detect fraud. The merest whiff would have them coming down like a ton of bricks.

    • CLEANGREEN 5.2

      AD,

      Why do you say that the NZTA could absorb the MoT?????

      You are again so wrong as NZTA is a road controlling authority and know nothing about all other types of transport except rads.

      You are obviously anti-rail as we saw over the Gisborne rail issue, but it is the Ministry of Transport who hold all the records, files, studies, documents on every form of transport ad NZTA only have records on roads??

      Just give us any NZTA studies/reports on any other transport modality other than rail AD????

      Then to top this off (so you don’t try to wriggle through my points,) we asked in a letter to NZTA two years ago for funding a study for the Napier Gisborne Rail, and guess what NZTA HQ said in a letter to us that we hold?

      Yes they said “we are a RCA (Road Controlling Authority” and have no policy for rail other than the safety of track use/level crossings ec’t.”

      Please don’t send us wrong information as NZTA cannot absorb the Ministry of transport who has many years of history and evidence of all forms of transport.

      NZTA are not equipt for this task!!!!!!!

      • Ad 5.2.1

        You are an idiot.

        If you follow my comments at any length you will see I favour rail.

        And yes I know a fair bit about NZTA.

        If you want rail information go to Kiwirail.

        You are clearly struggling engaging with the government. Get professional help. You won’t be successful without it.

  6. QED 6

    I once turned up for a job interview at MoT , was asked to go into a side room and prepare a presentation motivating people to ride bicycles, suggested the PM might lead by example, was called to sit at the head of a long table with three people on my left and a male inspecting me closely from my right .. and it went off on a completely different tangent.

    Research and professional experience was ignored – their main talking points seemed to be overseas conferences.

    Suddenly a woman with long brown hair appeared at the other end of the table, took one look at me, and walked out.

    The interview committee sprang to their feet and marched me to the lift. I was still trying to reason with them as someone punched the button and the lift went down.

    I don’t wish to be too harsh .. one person seemed uncertain, detached, and a bit amused by it all.

    For me it was not funny ..

  7. There’s obviously some more managers that need to be sharing that jail cell. Obstruction of justice, which is what they did, comes with a maximum seven year jail term.

  8. greywarshark 8

    They are too fucking powerful in the Min of Transport. It just underlines the almost absolute, tending to be, truth : ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely’.

  9. CLEANGREEN 9

    Ministry of transport are the only agency that had the documentation/reports/studies and library to be the “principal Advisory’ (it says on their website,) to the government and agencies on all transport matters” but in our request for reference studies/materials we were advised today that their own library has been lost during the earthquake and later to water damage??????

    Why was this not told to the public until we dug for referenced materials today????

    Yes folks, – National hate the Ministry of Transport as the Ministry has always been a bit critical of Government.

    Also because of witnessing as we are the rail being run down deliberately, though they say they have spent 2 billion on saving the rail, if you look at those figures the bulk 85% went to Auckland wellington passenger rail for the private companies to run them at a subsidised model.

    So it looks like National and the Minister are also allowing the Ministry of Transport to be culled also now????

    Here is our reply that reached us today from the Ministry of Transport explaining to us the loss of all their records library.

    Minister should be fired for incompetence or neglect of his own Ministry.

    Ministry of Transport
    Manager of People & Environment.
    19th July 2017.

    “Good morning ,

    I passed your email onto a few people, including the NZTA, to see if we can track down information easily. We have lost our hard copy library and because of the earthquake damage to our former office space, and subsequent water damage, we are not expecting to be able to retrieve anything from the building.

    As a number of people are on leave this week, I will aim to get back to you next week with a fuller response.

    Warm regards”

    • Ad 9.1

      They didn’t make the earthquake damage up.

      But MOT are being heavily criticised by the Ombudsman for deliberately hiding information from an OIA.

      Check if either Archives NZ or NZTA have the stuff you seek.

      • CLEANGREEN 9.1.1

        AD

        We have spent the Last nine yrs chasing after NZTA for rail report/studies – for 9 yrs!!!!

        And the answer is always that they say they have no business with rail and say – see MoT.

        We have all the Ministry of Transport studies up to date to 2014 years in various “safe houses” since we meet with MoT staff in Gisborne following the rail washout in 2012 thankfully.

        This Government are conducting a deep dark operation to reduce Government as we speak, and it does not bode well for all our collective futures.

        One point was that in 2013 we asked the “principal advisor of the Governments own rail study for viabilty to re-open the rail services to Gisborne we asked them at MBIE if they had any rail studies done for their report and they said no in email hold today.

        So we asked them if they would receive our library copies of Ministry of Transport rail studies and She (the MBIE Principal advisor) said yes she will insure that the study group who are making the government Gisborne rail report for them to use as references, and we were happy.

        But in 2014 in march when all the fanfare government put up that there own rail study showed the Gisborne rail was not viable we reviewed the report and our MoT reports were omitted and not used some complained to the MBIE Principal Advisor who said it was disappointing the study group never used the MoT rail reports.

        So you see the criminal intent here that they even never observed the wishes of the Principal Adviser at MBIE and effectively “cheery picked what they wanted to make the report say what they wanted.

        That is why we need badly a Minister of Rail now since we own the company and the minister must be responsible for it.

        • Ad 9.1.1.1

          Pretty common for one department to ignore advice from another. Happens regularly.

          After 9 years of failure your group needs to reflect hard.

          It usually involves hiring a lobbyist like Saunders Unsworth or similar. And get a full advocacy strategy going.

          Watch out for the rail governance review – already drafted and due out once it’s gone through a fresh Cabinet after election.

          • CLEANGREEN 9.1.1.1.1

            All good AD,

            But this guy you quoted ‘Saunders Unsworth’ is a bit shaky isn’t he?
            QUOTE;
            “In the emails, Mr Unsworth said although he was an academic, Dr Joy had “let his ego run riot worldwide” while risking jobs and incomes from decreased tourism.
            “You guys are the Foot and Mouth Disease of the tourism industry. Most ordinary people in NZ would happily have you lot locked up,” he wrote.
            UNQUOTE;
            http://thejackalman.blogspot.co.nz/2012/11/mark-unsworth-asshole-of-week.html

            MMMMMM!!!!

            As a traditional Labour/NZ First – voting family this guy may not fit.

  10. tc 11

    Yes there is something very rotten….Simon Bridges. About as trustworthy and believable as one john philip key.

  11. simbit 12

    I (and several others) blew a whistle on racism at a NZ university. Alongside these concerns were others (held by us and other colleagues) of financial ‘waste’ including the classic Kiwi thing of large amounts of international travel!

    Most of us have gone now, for various reasons (including ‘restructuring’). I’m in a better (overseas) position, with a promotion. This is not just a NZ thing, of course, but it does seem particularly prevalent and – as we know – it goes VERY high in our society.

  12. Ethica 13

    Grant Robertson gave an interesting talk recently on how, if elected, they could improve the public service. Wants more transparency, less gatekeeping, cooperation between agencies, less fear etc. Wants to help create a culture where people are proud to be public servants doing public service.

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