Public service numbers since Lord Normanby’s first appointee in 1839

14 August 2016

Last week the Minister of State Services published findings of the latest six monthly headcount in the core government administration. This shows the extent to which agencies (somewhat broader than “core public service” as described by the Minister)  have complied with the cap on staffing numbers imposed in 2008 by the newly elected  Key Administration. Then with notable exceptions including much of the Ministry of Social Development (including CYF) and Department of Corrections, employee numbers were capped in Public Service departments (the 35 departments then listed in Sch1 to the State Sector Act) and five Crown Entities (Housing NZ Corporation, Accident Compensation Corporation,  NZ Qualifications Authority, NZ Trade and Enterprise, NZ Transport Agency and the Tertiary Education Commission).

There were 38,849 relevant employees in December 2008 when the cap was imposed.  The latest headcount is 35,917 being a 190 full-time equivalent reduction since December 2015. (In December 2015  a substantially greater reduction – to 35,335 – was projected.) There are approximately 10,000 employees in MSD and Corrections who are not subject to the cap.

An interesting coincidence is that today is the 177th anniversary of what can be considered as the appointment of New Zealand’s first public servant. That is the date of the Instructions which Lord Normanby, the Secretary for State for War and the Colonies,  gave to Captain Hobson on his appointment as Consul in New Zealand in 1839.  Hobson’s mission was to establish a “settled form of civil government” in New Zealand which reflected the expectations prescribed by the Secretary of State. (James Busby who was the British Resident in the Bay of Islands from 1833 – 1840 was commissioned by the Governor of New South Wales.)

Lord Normanby  referred to exercising “mildness, justice, and perfect sincerity…”  and that ….”dealings …  must be conducted on …principles of sincerity, justice, and good faith…”  “The acquisition of land by the Crown … must be confined to such districts as the Natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves.”

Although New Zealand was to be a dependency to the Government of New South Wales Lord Normanby indicated that “… I trust that the time is not distant when it may be proper to establish in New Zealand itself a local legislative authority.”  But Hobson was to be the only Colonial Office appointee in the first instance. Subordinate officers with pay “…fixed with the most anxious regard to frugality in the expenditure of the public resources” were to  be selected from the colonists either of New South Wales or New Zealand, “…but upon the full and distinct understanding that their tenure of office, and even the existence of the offices which they are to hold, must be provisional, and dependent upon the future pleasure of the Crown.”

Permanent appointments were made in May 1841 by Lord Russell who had taken over as Secretary of State.  His appointments included William Martin as Chief Justice, William Swainson as Attorney-General and George Oathwaite as Registrar of the Supreme Court.  They replaced Hobson’s appointees although Willoughby Shortland (a former naval officer like Hobson) who accompanied Hobson from England was also appointed by Lord Russell as Colonial Secretary. He acted as Governor after Hobson’s death but was sacked as Colonial Secretary soon after Governor Fitzroy arrived.  Fitzroy replaced Shortland with Andrew Sinclair – a retired naval surgeon who accompanied Fitzroy to New Zealand.

Sinclair did not show particular ability as Colonial Secretary, but he acquired a reputation for being “honest, upright, scrupulous, and laborious”. He is recognised for setting up the nucleus of an efficient Civil Service, with men like G. S. Cooper and William Gisborne in key positions. He later drowned crossing the Rangitata River.

Swainson was praised by Lord Stanley and James Stephen at the Colonial Office for the clarity and intelligibility of his legislation and the completely new basis for the legal system in New Zealand. He opposed  responsible government recognising that it placed Maori at the mercy of a land-hungry European minority.  Seen consequently as a precise, careful but self-conceited lawyer he was described as a cultured English gentleman.  He was the first Speaker of the Legislative Council. He died in 1884 at Judges Bay in the house he brought from England.


Shaky start to responsible government in New Zealand 160 years ago

11 August 2016

New Zealand’s first attempt at representative government under the 1852 Constitution ended 160 years ago this month.  The Constitution championed by Governor Grey not only set up six Provincial Governments but provided for the 1853 election of up to 42 members to a House of Representatives and the appointment of 10 Legislative Council members, subordinated to the Governor. Meeting in a notorious leaky building, the “shedifice” at Auckland, the General Assembly called for responsible government. Acting Governor Wynyard referred the resolution to London but attempted a half measure of adding first three elected members, led by James Fitzgerald, to the Executive Council, then followed by two from the Legislative Council.

These members anticipated that the Colonial Secretary, the Attorney General and Treasurer would be pensioned off from the Executive Council, enabling the formation of a responsible Cabinet. Frustrated when told that change would require confirmation from the Secretary of State, Fitzgerald’s administration resigned on 2 August 1854.  The Acting Governor used Edward Gibbon Wakefield as a sole adviser until trying again on 31 August to govern through an Executive Council made up of a balance of appointees and elected members led by Thomas Forsaith. This Administration also fell over after three days and all power reverted to the Governor.

The British Government approval for responsible government was conveyed to the General Assembly, which made arrangements for a general election in 1855 to select members of the proposed Parliament. The franchise was males over 21 with a small property holding. Whereas the Provincial governments attended to land development, immigration, roads and railways, the national government focused on banking, shipping, Crown lands, courts, crime, customs, coinage, weights and measures, marriage and wills. The Governor had control over Maori affairs, native land sales and imperial affairs.  He would disallow legislation that was repugnant to British law. He would accept advice from responsible ministers whether he agreed or not. On ‘imperial matters’ he would receive advice, but may refer those matters to the Secretary of State.

As required by the British Government one of the first actions of the Parliament was to approve pension arrangements for the appointees of the Secretary of State – including Swainson the Attorney General (appointed in 1841) and Sinclair the Colonial Secretary (appointed in 1844).

Edward Stafford established a stable Ministry over the next five years  after very short-lived attempts by Henry Sewell and William Fox, neither lasting more than a fortnight…





Seeing what we want to see?

9 August 2016

Measuring government agency effectiveness and efficiency is complicated;  and more so when comparing performance across the public sector.  The Performance Improvement Framework around which continuous improvement of NZ State Services is evaluated was refined again this year, diminishing the value of previous PIF reports for comparison purposes. The Trans Tasman Annual Review of Government Departments is probably too crude a tool to be taken seriously.

Making international comparisons is no less complex. The World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators and the Ease of Doing Business Index (NZ 2nd in 2015),  Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  (NZ 4th in 2015) and numerous other measures like the Human Development Index (NZ 9th= in 2014) or even the World Happiness Index (NZ 9th in 2016) suggest the likely character of agencies but are insufficient to measure the competence and  efficiency of national agencies. Within the OECD the annual Government at a Glance survey is a generic performance indicator.

Nevertheless there are  international surveys that serve as  de facto comparators – assuming agencies have similar responsibilities; for example the Open Budget Index  may be seen as a comparative assessment of Finance Ministries – in which case the NZ Treasury could claim to be the best in the World, New Zealand having ranked highest on the two most recent Open Budget Indexes. The Global Peace Index where New Zealand has never ranked lower than 4th place may confirm the effectiveness of agencies in the Justice sector.

But some World Bank measures may provide a contrary picture.  The World Bank recently published the 2016 Logistics Performance Index, which measures the efficiency of clearance processes by border control agencies, – including speed, simplicity and predictability of formalities.  One product is a World Bank-produced pecking order of custom services in the 161 jurisdictions whose data is analysed. The top performing customs services, when the scores for the last four surveys are averaged,  are in Germany, Netherlands and Singapore.

NZ Customs Service has a mean rank of 22nd although New Zealand’s overall logistics performance puts it in 31st place. The New Zealand score dropped substantially in the 2016 index – to 37th place – which lowered the average of 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 LPIs.  Last week Indian media made play of India’s customs service performing better than New Zealand’s.

In the October 2015 UMR survey of public respect for government services in New Zealand, the NZ Customs Service was found to be the third most respected after the Fire Service and Police – and a little ahead of the Department of Conservation. If that is the perception New Zealanders have of an agency which rates poorly among comparable jurisdictions, a reasonable inference may be that the performance of agencies that are less well-regarded by New Zealanders is very poor compared with equivalent agencies in other developed jurisdictions.

Perhaps we see only what we want to see – and even when seeking to be objective “….we don’t see things as they are but as we are ourselves.”


Tigers and Flies

2 August 2016

Last Friday was the International Day of the Tiger – Global Tiger Day – nominated in May this year at a UN Environment Assembly, as part of the Wild for Life campaign run by UN Environment Programme, the UN Development Programme, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,  and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

In China there was an anthropomorphic spin on the day, with General Guo Boxiong, one of the regime’s tigers as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission (President Xi Jinping is Chairman of the Central Military Commission) was sentenced to life in prison for accepting bribes to arrange promotions. Guo was stripped of his rank, deprived of his political rights for life, and his assets were confiscated.  Guo’s bribes were “extremely huge” and his crimes were “extremely serious.”

In 2013 when Xi became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People’s Republic of China he made an anti-corruption commitment to crack down on both “tigers” (senior officials) and “flies” (lower ranks). Although his predecessor regularly spoke of the importance of tackling corruption, the pace and prominence of compliance measures appear to have increased.  English language media carry frequent reports; the Shanghai Daily has a navigation bar for All Flies and Tigers Articles, and ChinaFile has an interactive tool for reporting on Tigers and Flies  by rank, location, sector, date etc.

Another report last week illustrates the probable use of the tigers and flies programme to neutralise political opposition.  Zhang Yue, a former standing member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) committee in Hebei Province  was charged with “extravagance and hedonism”.  He had been absent without official leave during important missions, he practised “superstitious” activities, sought benefits for others, attended banquets, played golf, and accepted gifts and money in violation of the Party’s clean-governance rules. He traded power and money for sex and interfered in construction projects and judicial activities.  Zhang had “lost his beliefs, seriously violated the Party’s code of conduct and did not end his inappropriate behaviour after the CPC 18th National Congress” (when Xi was appointed as President).  Zhang was removed from office, his assets were confiscated and he was expelled from the Party.



Trust is a question of the heart

11 July 2016

The New York Times may have a liberal bias but an article last week “A more personal Hillary Clinton tries to erase a trust deficit” pulled no punches in listing the leading presidential candidate’s acts and omissions that undermine the electorate’s confidence in her.  Polls suggest that she is considered about 8%  less trustworthy than Donald Trump.   The article concludes with an attribution to one of Mitt Romney’s Republican strategists, that “there are two things that drive us in politics: the head and the heart. Trust is a question of heart.”  An inference is that without regenerating her trustworthiness, Mrs Clinton will struggle in the general election. Even her supporters tell pollsters that they do not trust her.

Mrs Clinton recently acknowledged that she has “made mistakes” and will have to work at getting people to trust her.  This was emphasised when the FBI Director contradicted many of her explanations regarding her email use and said that she had been “extremely careless”.  Moderating what some see as her extreme hubris, she told an audience that “You can’t just talk someone into trusting you. You’ve got to earn it.”  But it still took her months after the email scandal broke before she conceded some fault.

The article reports a campaign adviser indicating that there is no magic set of words that will address the trust deficit head-on. Mrs Clinton cannot bluntly ask voters to trust her and wash away the past. “She will quell doubts once she has the job”… with her performance, and how hard she works for the people she represents.

Part of the trust problem is that voters are much more inclined to believe the bad things they hear about a political figure than the good things. Nearly twice as many polled voters when comparing Mrs Clinton with Mr Trump felt that Mrs Clinton said what she thought people wanted to hear most of the time, rather than what she believed.  “It’s more like she’s saying things because they’re politically correct or because they further her agenda, rather than because it’s coming from the heart,” one said. She may only capture the hearts of a majority of the electorate, their trust and their votes, if those voters can trust that she speaks from the heart.




Post-truth politics – when does an aphorism become a media cliché?

10 July 2016

This year has seen a renewed enthusiasm by political commentators in the United States and the United Kingdom for using “post-truth” to describe the disregard some politicians show for the accuracy of their public statements.  The utterances of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have been a regular focus. A Google search for “post-truth politics” produces more than 5,080,000 hits.  Inevitably this has influenced our media.  Andrea Vance this week has written and tweeted asking if “… the post-truth era is upon us?”  It was 16 years ago that Ralph Keyes titled his book about dishonesty and euphemisms The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. Her query then may be an ironical observation about New Zealand society in generally – and politicians in particular – trailing much of the western world by the better part of a generation – or it could just be that as the Guardian has been keen on the term, it needs air time here.

Familiarity with the expression may also flow from the recent launch of a book by Ari Rabin-Havt  Lies, Incorporated: The World of Post-Truth Politics.  Rabin-Havt is a Vice President of Media Matters for America, a media watchdog aggressively critical of conservative media and their contributors.  Hillary Clinton was an early adviser to Media Matters. The New York Times has reported that Media Matters “helped lay the groundwork” for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.  Which leads to a New Zealand connection.  Hillary Clinton can perhaps be recognised as one of the early adopters of the post-truth style.  In 1995 she spoke of her mother naming her after Sir Ed Hillary. She also made that comment when meeting Sir Ed.  Despite being challenged repeatedly about the veracity, as her birth in 1947 was when Ed Hillary was an unrecognised New Zealand beekeeper and six years before scaling Mt Everest, it was more than a decade before she acknowledged the exaggeration.

A 2010 Grist article is claimed to have been the first use of the term “post-truth politics”  which in 2011 was adopted regularly by Paul Krugman articles in the New York Times, but a chapter in the 2004 book When President’s Lie (Eric Alterman) was titled “The Post-Truth Presidency”.  The “post-truth society” was being referred to in a blog by Charles Colson in 2002.‘post-truth’-era-upon-us




China’s floods flow from corruption

8 July 2016

The following Noachian headline has been reiterated by dozens of news aggregator sites since publication by Quartz earlier today.

China’s devastating floods can be traced back to corruption and overbuilding” heads an account of flooding across 26 Chinese provinces. A super typhoon this weekend is forecast to add to last week’s rain that has affected 32 million people with alleged losses of about $NZ 10 billion. Although the numbers killed appear lower than in many Chinese disasters reported by the international media, this is the country’s worst flood for ten years. The city of Wuhan is most affected. The transport network is paralyzed because drainage schemes that were to have been completed this year, have been only partially built.

Flooding results from reclamation for urban development of large lake areas.  The construction of compensating flood controls has been delayed because funding has been redirected or lost to other corrupt practices. Quartz comments that corruption and wasteful spending scandals are not uncommon in China’s flood-control projects and lists illustrations. In March after a special Cabinet meeting Premier Li Keqiang spoke of new measures in his campaign to stamp out corruption and oversee public spending.   But when visiting the flood area he said nothing about these underlying causes.