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Andrew Dickens: Public servants, not government, are letting the team of 5 million down

Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Feb 2021, 12:23PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Andrew Dickens: Public servants, not government, are letting the team of 5 million down

Andrew Dickens,
Publish Date
Mon, 1 Feb 2021, 12:23PM

I want to talk about governance.

Governance is defined in the dictionary is the way rules, norms and actions are structured, sustained , regulated and held accountable. 

It’s the job of governments in public life and board in corporate life. 

But I view governance differently.

To me, governance is the trick of actually doing something, actually achieving something and actually running something for the greater good.  You know, governing.

I’ve been moved to talk about governance because of continuing failures in this nation and overseas by the people who are charged with it. 

In reality, Governance is not what governments do.  Politicians can’t run a thing.  Sure, they make decisions and plot directions but they then hand the job over to a workforce who are supposed to be professionals at getting stuff done. The professionals at governance. 

When Phil Twyford said the last government would build 100,000 houses he made an enormous blunder.  But part of that blunder was the inability of the public servants in his charge at making any of it happen. 

The Simpson Roche report that was sneaked out just before the holidays has ample examples of that failure. 

The politicians determined the amount of PPE to be purchased and handed the job over to supposed professionals to get the stuff ordered and distributed.  They failed and then fudged that failure to the governing body. 

I was reminded of all this again with the tragic story of the New Zealander in Japan with terminal brain cancer, who just wanted to come home, but was refused permission. 

This was decision of a civil servant who brutally applied the criteria without engaging a brain or a heart.  As soon as the politicians heard of the case and how obvious the need was they reversed to bureaucrat’s bad governance. 

With public servants like these, politicians don’t need enemies. 

It was the same last week when testing was ramped up for Covid in Northland resulting in fearsome capacity restraints and queues. I don’t blame the politicians for this but the Ministry of Health and DHBs for not predicting the flaming obvious. Where was the flying squad of testers ready to swoop into hotspots at a moment’s notice?  We’ve had nearly a year to figure that out. 

The failures in MIQ are failures at the ground level.  The people through the government ordered the public servants to design a quarantine system.  It’s full of holes.  Different sites, different systems and no one on the ground using common sense. 

If they need politicians armed with law or philosophy degrees or just a desire to do good, to tell them how to do it, you have to ask why we have the so called experts in public policy and governance at all. 

Many people talk about holding our politicians to account. What we really need is the government and the media holding the frontline and our public servants to account. Because they’re the ones who keep letting the so called team of 5 million down. 

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