Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Better Public Service Targets Require Independent Auditing - NZ First Private Members' Bill Series Part Two

Yesterday morning, we woke up to news that government agencies are quite literally "inventing numbers" in order to make themselves seem competent and measure up to the government's public service performance targets.

This might seem pretty heinous - and it is - but consider the culture they're operating in. They answer, after all, to a Government which thought it was perfectly fine and a-OK to make up out of thin air any range of numbers from the projected economic benefits of the TPPA (there's no data to support a $2.7 billion dollar figure), through to the supposed revenue from selling off our power companies.

It is fair, right and proper that we be given information which allows us to assess how well particular government agencies and programs are performing. Equally, it is also unjust and iniquitous that the present Government's bean-counter approach to politics has created a situation wherein public servants feel they *have* to lie, cheat and obfuscate in order to maintain their sources of much-needed integral funding.

I've personally seen this in the education sector, where a number of providers I've worked for have seemingly deliberately massaged measures of assessment and achievement in pursuit of better pass-rates - and the consequent rewards which follow.

The issues identified by the Salvation Army in their State of the Nation report, however, are far broader.

This isn't just 'cheating' at already established and externally recognized rubrics of accountability.

This is the creation of entirely new metrics with the deliberate and specific object of *avoiding* accountability. It's also the presentation of data in singularly unhelpful ways so as to prevent the casual observer (or even, apparently, the seeming-expert) from being able to keep reliable tabs on the performance-returns of public money.

It is exceptionally worrying that some of our most vulnerable - children under the aegis of CYFs foremost among them - appear to be the ones most directly affected by this number-crunching chicanery.

This is not a new issue, either.

Ever on the ball, NZ First's Social Development spokesperson, Darroch Ball put a private member's bill in the ballot mid-way through last year that would have addressed this situation, by ensuring independent scrutiny of public service targets. It also would have specifically addressed the CYFs issue through subjecting targets in this area to Children's Commissioner oversight.

This would ensure accountability by placing the responsibility for verifying and validating performance in the hands of people dedicated to ensuring accurate and apt outcomes. Not self-interested parties with a vested motivation to make themselves look good. It's simply common sense.

We cannot allow the worrying trend of government agencies being given free-reign to self-assess and self-pass to continue.

As we can see from the CYFs situation, it's not simply an issue of taxpayer dollars and cents. It's a pressing and urgent case of quality-of-life, quality-of-service, and even potentially risks to life itself.

I salute both Darroch Ball and the Salvation Army for putting this ongoing travesty under the spotlight.

Let us hope that Ball's bill is adopted, and this flagrant abuse of process put to an end.

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