Saturday, August 06, 2011

Exclusive: Brownlee misled Cabinet over CERRP pay

Last month, I highlighted the appalling process used to appoint former Prime Minister (and National Party crony) Jenny Shipley to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel. One of the reasons it was so appalling is that members of the panel were to be paid at triple the normal rate. Brownlee's justification for this, given in a letter to State Services Minister Tony Ryall [PDF], was that "it will not be possible to secure their services under the current fees range". He repeated this claim in his paper to the Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee [PDF], saying:

I do not believe that the proposed nominees will undertake the role for fees within the ranges established in the Cabinet Fees Framework.
I was curious about this, especially in light of Panel Chair John Hansen's admission that he never asked what he would be paid, so I asked about it, seeking the reasons for Brownlee's claim and all documentation relating to it. The response [PDF] is illuminating. After talking about the importance of the Review Panel's work, Brownlee goes on:
It was my judgement that given the important nature of the Review Panel's work, including the legislative requirement for all proposed Orders in Council to be reviewed inside 72 hours, a higher daily fee was justified.

In coming to this judgement I also took into account the equivalent daily fees paid to High Court Judges as well as the fees paid to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Commission. As you are aware, I sought agreement from my colleague the Minister for State Services for this course of action, and sought Cabinet agreement as part of the appointment process for the review panel.

At no time did I have any discussion with the proposed Review Panel members about the level of remuneration offered for the position, as you will have heard from reported media comments in recent weeks. My discussions with each of the individuals focussed on the nature of the task required of the Review Panel.

(Emphasis added)

So, when Brownlee told Ryall categorically that Shipley et al wouldn't work for a mere $270 - $415 a day, he was simply making it up. And while he was less categorical with Cabinet, he was still misleading. The clear implication was that he had asked, or at least investigated the possibility; as is clear from the above, he hadn't.

Needless to say, I think misleading a fellow Minister and Cabinet so your crony can be paid triple the normal rate ranks fairly high on the ladder of political sins. But maybe that's just me. Maybe John Key thinks its perfectly acceptable. Hopefully some journalists will ask him.

As a final note, this is what the Cabinet Fees framework for members appointed to bodies in which the Crown has an interest has to say about higher than usual fees:

A compelling case is required to support the payment of fees above the levels set in the fee scales. Justification should include evidence of an adequate, robust and appropriate selection process and consideration of potential candidates, any difficulties in recruitment or retention, and/or particular skills and expertise that are required for a specific task. Further advice is available from the SSC.
Whether Brownlee made that compelling case (or ran an adequate, robust and appropriate selection process, or demonstrated any difficulty in recruitment) is left as an exercise for the reader.