Monday, July 24, 2017

Must read

Today's must-read (though its from last week): Peter Newport's piece in The Spinoff on The Ministry of Transport fraud case: Why the rot goes deeper than Joanne Harrison. Based on information from more MoT whistleblowers, it makes a convincing case that, contrary to government excuses, Harrison was not some fraudulent mastermind who deceived everyone. Instead, her fraud was clumsy, easily detectable - and was detected multiple times. And that it was the failure of then chief executive (and for the time being, Auditor-General) Martin Matthews to actually act on these warnings that was the problem.

That's bad, and it puts Matthews in a very bad light. But the thing that really gets me is this:

Martin Matthews was assistant auditor general for eight years from 1990. One of his core responsibilities was fraud prevention. His boss for much of that time was Jeff Chapman. Chapman holds the dubious distinction of being New Zealand’s highest ranking civil servant to be convicted and jailed for fraud. As auditor general and head of ACC, according to evidence at his trial in 1997, Chapman lived the high life: first-class travel, fine wine and food, trips on Concorde and helicopter rides from the French Riviera to Monte Carlo. He was found guilty of defrauding ACC of $20,000 and the Audit Office of $34,549.

According to our source, Matthews had given MOT staff the impression that he was aware his former boss, Auditor General Chapman, had been cheating the system...

The first bit is bad enough. The natural question is why anyone who was deputy to New Zealand's worst public sector fraudster was ever allowed to work in a management role in the public service ever again. And then to learn that he's been telling people "yeah, I knew about it" and did nothing - its as if he's proud of his role in covering up for criminals. Which is fundamentally inconsistent with the values of the New Zealand public service and the leadership chief executives are required to display. Those statements alone are reason for immediately firing him, because they suggest that he would tolerate corruption in his department. And when there has been corruption in his department, that he was warned about repeatedly, it starts to look a lot like he was a knowing party to the offence.

The report on Matthews should be out this week. But if it finds him blameless and lets him continue in office, there is simply no hope whatsoever for our public service.