Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A denial of responsibility

One of the core conventions of our constitution is that of individual Ministerial responsibility, summed up by the Cabinet Manual as follows

Ministers are accountable to the House for ensuring that the departments for which they are responsible carry out their functions properly and efficiently. On occasion, a Minister may be required to account for the actions of a department when errors are made, even when the Minister had no knowledge of, or involvement in, those actions.
But as Bryan Gould points out in the Herald today, Murray McCully's answers last week about the MFAT restructuring ignore this convention:
In an interview last Thursday on Morning Report, he solemnly proclaimed that - as minister - he was no more than "the purchaser of the ministry's services." This is free-market ideology gone mad. It is an astonishing new take on what the role of a minister is and should be, and betrays a shocking ignorance of what parliamentary government is about.

On this view, ministers in this Government, it seems, no longer decide policy or frame strategy. The actions of the ministries and departments they are appointed to lead have nothing to do with them, and they are no longer accountable to Parliament or to anyone else.

This isn't even pointing the finger at public servants - its an outright denial of Ministerial responsibility. And it just isn't acceptable. Ministers are responsible to Parliament. If their public service chief executives are making policy decisions they do not like, it is their job to correct them, and they are responsible for that. It is that simple. Allowing this to be eroded doesn't just mean we have rogue Ministers, but also a rogue public service. And that is not something we should accept.