Jun 30, 2008

Politicisation Of The Public Service

Shock suggestions from the Dominion Post Editorial today

A perception has grown up, rightly or wrongly, in recent years that the public service has left behind its tradition of political neutrality and become an operational arm of the Labour Party. That has been encouraged by a national librarian lavishly praising her minister in public, a chief executive bowing to bullying from his minister over a departmental appointment and a former state services commissioner who learned a senior state servant didn't have the doctorate she claimed yet failed to frogmarch her from the building, presumably because of her political connections.
A sense has also grown of a service no longer willing to give ministers advice they do not want to hear and a chief executive pool that erroneously believes their boss is their minister, not the state services commissioner.

And some ideas about what to do about the problem

The National Party, in the shape of state services spokesman Gerry Brownlee, has been the chief among the public service's critics in recent years, especially since the so-called Setchell affair, which peripherally involved one of the party leader's own staff. If it is truly determined to return to the public service the aura of neutrality it wore under Dr Mervyn Probine, it could do worse than look at a change of attack - if it becomes the government.
It might, for example, consider adding the position of state services commissioner to the small club of parliamentary officers who report to Parliament itself, rather than a minister, and replicating the employment arrangement of the auditor-general, who is appointed for a seven-year, non-renewable term. That would give the commissioner an independence the incumbent does not enjoy now.
No one can accuse Auditor-General Kevin Brady of being anyone's lapdog after the persistent way he went after illegal party spending at the 2005 election and reported his findings to Parliament. Were Mr Rennie to be given similar autonomy, ministers would think more than twice about taking on their chief executives, particularly if they knew such antics would inevitably be made public.
We wish Mr Rennie well in his new job. It is clear he has his work cut out for him.

We too wish Rennie all the best.