Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Cronyism in the worst possible place

Its the usual story: a top government job becomes vacant, and is mysteriously filled by a personal friend of the Minister, who is introduced into the process at the last minute. We've seen it happen again and again from this government, and even when the appointee is qualified it taints their appointment and introduces doubts about whether it was really on merit. While corrupt, such appointments are normally harmless - but now National has done it in a place where it really matters: the GCSB:

[Ian] Fletcher, head of the secretive Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), was not short-listed for the job at the Government's foreign spy agency - but applied after a phone call from Key.

The short list, drawn up by a recruitment company, was rejected by State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie.

Rennie said in a statement last night he advised the prime minister that in his judgement "none of the potential shortlist was likely to operate at the required level and therefore should not be considered by the panel. The prime minister accepted that advice."

Key then contacted Fletcher, who was subsequently the only candidate interviewed.

There are two problems here. The first is the corrupt process by which Key appointed a longstanding friend to a top job paying hundreds of thousands of dollars - a process which at the least calls Fletcher's merit into question. The second is constitutional. The GCSB is effectively an unconstrained agency, both in law and in practice. They have the power and capability to spy on anyone, and no effective oversight beyond the Minister and the Director (the Intelligence and Security Committee is a bad joke, meeting for less than an hour a year). So its particularly important that their director not be a crony who holds their appointment as a reward from the Prime Minister.

It speaks volumes that even National's chief online apologist, DPF, calls the appointment "unfortunate". I'd go beyond that: it is cronyism, and downright dangerous. But its so very, very National, isn't it?