11 April 2013

Trite though the superstition may be, New Zealand public servants will be hoping for that there isn’t more bad news imminent following this week’s castigation of aspects of the Government Communications Security Bureau, the Department of Labour and the Ministry of Economic Development. In effect 10% of Public Service departments have been implicated in substantial performance failures.

The blending of DOL and MED into the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment may well be a consequence, and GCSB will apparently soon find itself subject to substantial change.  DOL is the only one of the three included in the survey of public belief in the extent to which departments do a good job, published in the latest UMR Mood of the Nation survey. ( Agencies doing worse were the Ministry of Education and the Accident Compensation Commission, both of which have experienced recent high profile integrity failures involving improper disclosure of personal information. )

The numbers who thought DOL did an excellent or very good job dropped more substantially than for most other departments. Interestingly, DOL was the only agency of the three that had been through a Performance Improvement Survey (before the creation of MBIE). It was rated among the better performing departments, but like many others scored a “needing improvement” for management of risk. The Pike River mine disaster was a most unwelcome confirmation.

A hard hitting report on the GCSB by the Cabinet Secretary will embarrass many. This has been compounded by the chief executive of MBIE realising that there was a need to apologise publicly to families of miners killed at Pike River. Public trust in Government will be affected.  This is foreshadowed in the Dominion Post editorial on 9 April titled “…Public trust betrayed by spies…”. The suggestion is that problems extend far beyond the failings of an individual and “…represent a fundamental breach of trust…”

“Getting it Right”, published last December, reflects PIF findings.  The article refers to some of the successful and the less successful aspects of departments when measured against the framework.   The good include a responsiveness to Ministers, delivering on their priorities, and maintaining high levels of financial  integrity.

There has been less success in strengthening institutions and working across the system. Both of these elements are necessary to deliver the results expected by the government. The authors conclude that being corruption free just is not good enough.  We have to deliver the quality of public services New Zealanders expect. Those expectations will have taken a knock this week.