Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Après moi, le déluge

Consequences of National's austerity, part 287: the public service forgot how to deal with (and was not funded for) a change of government:

Public servants responsible for the transition between governments failed to support new ministers as no-one had planned for a full scale, new administration.

Officials were caught on the hop after last year's general election, having planned for change no greater than a Cabinet reshuffle - that caused problems like being unable to supply laptops and mobile phones and a lack of experienced staff for incoming ministers.

State Services Minister Chris Hipkins ordered the review after frustration about the level of staffing and administration support ministers received from Ministerial and Secretarial Support Services (MaSS) upon taking office.

The KPMG report, obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act, found there was a shortage of skilled ministerial staff and IT support, which "affected some ministers' ability to get their offices up and running in a timely way".

There's a problem of institutional decay here - restructuring got rid of experienced staff who knew how to handle a change of government, meaning the organisation as a whole didn't really know what to do. But the core problem seems to be underfunding: National decided that the 2017 election would lead to no more than a reshuffle, and funded accordingly. I'm not sure whether that's just arrogance or not giving a fuck, but either way it is not acceptable. Like elections, changes of government are fundamental to a democracy, and its a core capability that needs to be retained. And the obvious answer is to fund and prepare for a full change of government each election, just in case. If it doesn't happen, then some of that money will be saved - but the institution will retain the skills, and that seems to be important here. Except, of course, to penny-pinching austerity-freaks who don't care what happens if they're not elected.