- Date published:
1:16 pm, July 20th, 2017 - 28 comments
Categories: Abuse of power, accountability, Deep stuff, national, national/act government, Politics, Privatisation, same old national, treasury, Unions, workers' rights - Tags:
Why be a public servant? Why in particular work in a government department in Wellington?
Twenty years ago there was still a mythology that such office jobs were cushy numbers with great perks. Ten years ago some could still say they had a calling to actually make a difference through work beyond their own self interest. Maybe a few still start off like that.
Now, two big instances pull back the curtain on what it’s really like, and what it means for government.
First off, the State Services Commission has confirmed that three staff at the Ministry of Transport who sought to be whistle-blowers on the massive and long term fraud there, were vindictively restructured out.
Any large government department has an atmosphere of controlled perpetual repression, because it is ruled over by a Minister whose personality is usually a mixture of naïve ideas, bullying, fear of the Prime Minister, fear of Parliament and the media, and everything else you see on House of Cards. It really is like that. So seeking to expose active and long term corruption by your superior is something really only those with no mortgage can undertake without real fear. Gordon Campbell noted in March this year that “If whistle blowers don’t feel protected if and when they relay their concerns to senior staff – let alone if they later feel impelled to go public to the media – then the formal protections on paper are worthless”.
The State Services Commission themselves understand how important the whistle-blowing function is to our public service:
Winston Peters was quite right: the then-Chief Executive of the Ministry of Transport, who is now the Auditor General, should leave. He allowed this repression of his own staff under his watch. He also failed to detect the corruption. He is now in charge of detecting corruption in the public sector.
That gives you a little hint of what it is really like to work in Wellington as a public servant now. It is a perpetual climate of fear and obedience, where the good go punished and there is no justice for incompetence or malice.
At the Inland Revenue Department, they are going to cut 30% of the workforce. They are rolling out an enormous new computer system, to overtake the old one which has been running as a set of patch-ups with Kiwisaver loaded onto it, childcare payment changes, new tax thresholds, new rebates, all on an ageing computer architecture.
Sure, this kind of automation is affecting the entire accounting industry. And granted this set of changes has been building for several years. However the Public Service Association says that “The loss of expert staff and the lack of certainty for workers reapplying for more simplistically modified roles means that important regulatory changes to the tax system rest on very shaky foundations.”
The Taxpayers Union agrees with the PSA (!).
Other accounting analysts on Radio New Zealand this morning were equally concerned at the gutting of regulatory and interpretative capacity in the department.
The IRD is one of the largest and most vital instruments of state. It collects the money in tax, but does far more. People I know of in there are there because they want the whole of New Zealand to pay their share in order that the instruments of state do their best to redistribute equity across the whole population.
3,000 people likely unemployed, meaning 3,000 mortgages at risk in Wellington. That is one huge hit to the economy.
Granted this is nothing on the scale of perpetual restructures that occurred in Wellington in the 1990s. And yes, with unemployment at around 5% they will likely find lesser jobs to do something with.
But let’s make a couple of quick points.
The public service in Wellington are a core of the remaining middle class in New Zealand. Liquidate them and you liquidate not only their mortgages, but also the things they buy: travel, babysitters, gardeners, concert bookings, trips to Moore Wilsons, private schools, nice clothes, nice cars, restaurants, wine, regular haircuts, and in fact all the things that employ tens of thousands of other New Zealanders. Your entire life and family goes down a couple of pegs, and never returns. That’s not a reason to keep them in jobs. It simply notes that such moves cool the entire Wellington economy by devastating thousands of people.
The public service run the country. To take the IRD for example, there’s very little chance you can call them to get exemptions or extensions to filing deadlines, interpretations of regulatory clauses, or someone who can actually point you on the phone in the right direction. Because they will have been fired. That is the capacity being hollowed out. And don’t get me started on the lies and lifeboat ethics you see when there’s a major restructure on. It’s the evil part of human nature, covering a good shanking to your future with a tissue of meaningless and flippant corporate lies.
For those political parties who would like to do large things with the public sector, such as the Greens plans for massive social welfare spending all of which have huge tax implications, good luck getting those implemented. Compare that to the lack of capacity that already exists in Wellington to deal with the housing crisis, and you can see the inertia any future Labour government would face implementing tens of thousands of houses built per year. Hundreds of people debate and contest policy ideas in elections, and politicians make their promises, but without public servants to do them they just can’t and won’t happen.
Some people survive such restructures, and you see their names pop up across town in new departments, freshly-minted government agencies doing roughly the same stuff with yet another new brand. The churn is perpetual, the dumb ideas and new departments are just a pathetic and perpetual waste that you see year after year after year. That’s almost part of the nature of governments changing.
But this government has led this culture. Hollowed out, unable to act, disempowered, vengeful, cowed, increasingly corrupt. Most public servants, like most of New Zealand’s middle class, just continue to go backwards. A good country needs a good public service and good public servants to deliver that service.