Thursday, July 07, 2016

Can SSC sue Paula Rebstock?

Back in 2012, the state services Commission hired National Party crony Paula Rebstock to run a witch-hunt into leaks from MFAT. The report she produced was a complete hatchet job, which ignored evidence and slandered innocent public servants. A subsequent investigation by the Ombudsman has recommended an apology and compensation to Rebstock's victims. Which leads to an obvious question: can SSC sue Rebstock to recover those costs? After all, she's an independent contractor who hasn't just failed to perform her job to the required standard, but (according to the Ombudsman's report) displayed utter incompetence if not outright malice in the performance of her duties.

Normally you'd expect Rebstock's contract to contain an indemnity clause in which she indemnifies her principal against the costs of such incompetence - that's why contractors are paid the big bucks, and why they have muppet insurance. But it turns out that Rebstock didn't have a contract with SSC. Instead, according to a request filed through FYI, the public OIA request system, all she had was a single page appointment letter, the public service equivalent of a handshake agreement. So, I'm not sure if they can sue or not. But they should, because otherwise they're simply encouraging her (and other crony contractors) to do a bad job in future. Contracting out is supposed to result in greater accountability due to higher incentives for performance. Obviously, that doesn't work if there are no incentives against non-performance (see also: private prisons, charter schools, social bonds, and anything else National has privatised).

Sadly, I don't expect SSC to actually sue. Rebstock is a government crony, and SSC didn't get where it is today by standing up for public service values (or basic competence). So instead we'll be faced with the waste of $200,000 of public money, plus an unknown amount in compensation and legal fees to the victims, because SSC won't do its job. The sooner Rennie is gone and his replacement takes over, the better.