Friday, 25 January 2008

The state of the public service. (updated x3)

I see that the National Business Review is reporting that Mark Prebble, the State Services Commissioner has announced that he will be leaving his job about a year earlier than planned. This is apparently for "health reasons". However as the NBR also points out
... the temptation to chalk him up as another casualty of a series of minor scandals about the alleged politicization of the public service in the last year may prove irresistible.
At the same time the NBR has an article by Dr. John Gibson, Professor of Economcis at the University of Waikato, reporting on research into why public servants in New Zealand get paid 20 per cent more than similar workers in the private sector. Gibson writes,
My research shows that this pay gap is not due to obvious differences in job conditions, such as stress, whether jobs require physical labour, how interesting the work is or the scope for improving ones skills.

But the source of this pay gap has become apparent in recent months. It's the "bite your lip and be the fall guy" premium. (My emphases.)
May be 20% isn't enough for Mark Prebble. Gibson goes on to say,
This economy with the truth is aided and abetted by some of the weakest public sector leadership that we have seen in many years. Why don’t public sector CEOs stand up and defend the integrity of advice that their staff have given? Why do they roll over and play dead while the politicians tell porkies?
But this comes at a price to New Zealand as a whole. The public service is the major supplier of economic policy advice in this country. It dominates the market for advice in a manner not true overseas and so its all the more important that their advice is truly independent. There are few outside checks on what the public service says. Gibson writes,
It is no wonder that almost all of the researchers in Treasury have either left or taken secondments so that they spend as little time as possible at No 1, The Terrace. What’s the point, when research is systematically ignored or distorted by politicians?

What's the point, when senior management check which way the wind is blowing before taking a position and will even disassociate themselves from research done in their own department.

Having a compliant rather than an independent, research-led Treasury is hugely costly to New Zealand. Unlike in larger countries, there are few other sources of evidence-based advice on which to set economic policy.
Good independent economic advice is a must if New Zealand is to move up the OECD rankings as we are told by the government we must do. But if the government really believes this then why is it not encouraging honest, open and independent advance from its own departments?

Update: Not PC comments on the issue here: The demise of the Head Bureaucrat.

Update 2: Kiwiblog comments on Mark Prebble here: Prebble quits.

Update 3: The New Zealand Herald story on Mark Prebble is here.

1 comment:

Matt B said...

You have a blog! Well done, I will peruse your archives with interest.

Just found you via Not PC.

I trust you are being incredibly rude to anyone who disagrees, just as in real life.