May 24, 2008

More Money And Staff Not Always The Solution to Improved Delivery

We in principle accept the case that has been made to Government that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been under-resourced. We therefore support the principle that more resources should be allocated to it. We also believe that these resources should be focused the increasingly fertile field that is bilateral and regional trade negotiation and on the international process around climate change - the Kyoto liability is partly the result of bad advice from domestic policy departments and extremely poor negotiation by MFAT. There was no comparison between the Australian and New Zealand negotiating efforts during Kyoto I. Australia gave the task to the "A" team under Meg McDonald and got a fantastic result. New Zealand dropped the ball. We are disturbed to hear suggestions that the new money that is being given to MFAT in this budget is not being used quite as were were hoping it would be. The suggestion is that it will be going to bilateral divisions and wasted efforts such as the UN as opposed to the trade and environment negotiating teams. We certainly would not be opening an Embassy in Sweden unless of course were were planning to copy their very successful school fee voucher programmes. Why MFAT needs to be in Brisbane and Melbourne we do not know.

Even more disturbing was hearing from Fonterra sources the other day that MFAT has told the GCC that New Zealand can't meet for the next round in the important free trade agreement negotiations with that area because New Zealand can't find anyone to lead the negotiation. I beg your pardon??? This while people with exactly the required skill set are wasting their time preparing for a WTO Ministerial meeting that may not be held and which will almost certainly fail. Why can't MFAT prioritise? If the trade negotiations team want to stay self deluded on the WTO why not think laterally. The current Ambassador in Riyadh is a very experienced trade negotiator. Why can't he lead the negotiation? What about the HC in Singapore?

Of course one issue in the trade field is that there has been no leadership since before Christmas (Leask's pre-posting calls don't count). How MFAT can have allowed Falconer to string it along for so long should be an issue being given close scrutiny by the media and Ministers. It certainly hasn't gone unnoticed by key stakeholders - Fonterra etc.

We know that Minister Goff has got wind that things are going wrong in various parts of MFAT but unfortunately Peters is the responsible Minister. As far as he is concerned MFAT is wonderful. They constantly achieve the impossible - they make him look good and non-stupid when meeting the world's leaders. He isn't going to rock their boat. Unfortunately there is going to be no change from within. With Murdoch having signalled his departure the senior managers are all in butt lick mode vis a vis the perceived replacements. Everyone is wanting to have time with Maarten Wevers and be seen to checking policy with him. No doubt Rosemary Banks in New York is finding new friends she never knew she had before also. The result is unfortunately going to be that Murdoch bequeaths a Ministry even more oriented to the generalist when it should be moving as fast as possible to bolster the resources available to the specialist.

Unfortunately change in MFAT might have to wait for a change in Government.