On Monday 8th September 2014, Associate Professor Grant Duncan wrote an opinion piece in the Hawke’s Bay Today asking whether there is a need for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the New Zealand Public Service.
This was a serious issue even before the recent implications of Crown Ministers and public servants acting undemocratically.
I wrote a guest blog in The Daily Blog last month on some of the failings within the public sector here.
And I wrote this Letter to the Editor in response to Duncan’s op-ed, published 10th September 2014.
Grant Duncan (Talking Point 8th Sept) is quite correct in raising concerns about the neutrality of the public sector. The State Sector Act 1988 started the rot. From then we got CEOs rather than Secretaries, molded in the corporate model. CEO’s ‘performance’ was monitored, with ‘risk pay’ provided if they ‘measured up’ to the Minister as well as the State Services Commission.
All staff effectively worked for the CEO rather than the people of New Zealand. That ended up being a recipe for blind obedience and transactional allocation of tasks, where once thinking, knowledge and public engagement was cherished. We were even told you didn’t need to know anything to be a policy analyst; that could distort the view through the lens of nonsense economics that was all the rage.
The result was the rise of many people who were more into intrigue than ethical behaviour, more interested in themselves than public service. The loyal Eichmanns and the megalomaniacs do not care about serving the country and our future. They did not rise everywhere, but are there to an ever-increasing degree. Treasury destroyed a lot of the public service ethic because they didn’t actually think there was such a thing. In their theory, all people are selfish and out for personal gain.
By the late 1990s ‘good’ policy analysis had been redefined. It used to involve analysing all the policy means to achieve a desired end – free and frank advice. That process was effectively scrapped in favour of using free-market ideology (whether it was relevant or not) and finding out what the Minister and Treasury wanted to hear. Then giving it to them.
Since then it has got a lot worse. As Sir Geoffrey Palmer called for in February, we do need a credible inquiry into what has gone wrong with our democracy.