Thursday, July 07, 2011

Not acceptable

The annual financial review process, which requires department heads and Ministers to front up to select committees to account for their performance, is a vital mechanism for ensuring proper oversight of government agencies. But it is predicated on honesty from those agencies. And it seems that under National, that honesty is breaking down.

On June 23, Department of Conservation chief executive Al Morrison appeared before the Local Government and Environment Committee. As part of the hearing, he was asked about expected job losses at DoC. He said there wouldn't be any. The next day, he announced that he was sacking a hundred people.

Morrison has now been recalled to account for what seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead the committee, and therefore Parliament. His response? Semantics, evasions, and lawyer-esque hyper-parsing:

Morrison told reporters the select committee had asked him a specific question about whether any science positions would be lost.

"I'm still not in a position to say whether there will be science positions lost. I am in a position to say that my hope is, my ambition is, that we will not reduce the science budget.

"That's the question I was asked, that's the answer I gave. I stand by it and it is still the answer."

So, he's sacking people, who may include scientists, but he's not sure how many, so he can't really say that there will be job losses. It all depends on what the meaning of "is" is.

This is Not Fucking Acceptable. Government departments are responsible, through their Ministers, to Parliament. They work for us. For a department to sit down in front of a select committee and lie threatens the chain of democratic accountability which gives their functions legitimacy.

As for Morrison, he's as much as admitted that he attempted to mislead the committee. Not only is that a clear contempt of the House, for which he should be dragged to the privileges committee; its gross misconduct for a senior public servant. He should be sacked.