Wednesday, 11 April 2012

You must never go down to the end of town without consulting me

For many years now Government Departments and Councils have been using consultants for all kinds of things. Often the organisation concerned has shed a whole load of staff and taken on consultants to do the work which they were unable to shed along with the staff who used to do it.

Probably like me you have scratched your head when you have heard how much the consultants are paid and wondered where the savings are actually occurring. Most people would guess there is a saving because there is no need to pay sick leave, annual leave, or give paid public holidays. However between them, these extra costs to an employer would only add the equivalent of five unproductive paid weeks for each employee at the most. So it all depends on how much more the consultants are paid than the employees they replaced as to whether there is any saving at all.

But the use of consultants has other implications as well. Consultants as independent contractors have no loyalty to the organisation they are contracting to and are not part of the organisation’s ‘culture’. In the case of many Government Departments and Councils this might not be considered such a bad thing, but given the need for teamwork in such organisations, it could hardly be seen as helpful either.

During the term of the last Laboured Government the National Disgrace Party regularly harped on about how much Government was spending on consultants, but now the mangy moggy is out of the bag and we get to see how well the NDP actually ‘fixed’ this problem under their watch.

Their solution seems to be a case of “do as I say, not as I do”. Freelance journalist Keith Ng who writes on Scoop, must have had an inkling of this when he recently requested data on consultant expenditure by Government under the Official Information Act.

He discovered that expenditure on consultants under the current government has exceeded that of the previous administration by an outrageous amount. He also found that Governments (for many years) have failed to keep proper records of consultant expenditure in some departments. Furthermore they were aware of this when they used figures that did not show the full picture to ‘prove’ their ‘sound economic management’.

The current rag-tag Government has also made a great fuss about how they are capping departmental expenditure and this has led to a good deal of staff lay-offs. When challenged by opposition parties over the tactic, the National Disgrace claimed the staff being shed were not being re-hired as consultants after being dumped (and paid out redundancy compensation). It would seem in the light of the figure Keith Ng has obtained under the OIA that they were making this assertion based on woefully incomplete data. Many Government departments including Land Transport, Education, Economic Development, Conservation, and Te Puni Kokiri are missing from the expenditure.

So the fact is the Government cannot give us a true figure, although some of the departments Ng was able to get figures for are revealing enough in themselves.

Housing NZ has doubled its consultancy expenditure last year compared with the last year of the Laboured Government as did MFAT which is particularly interesting as they are contemplating another re-jig so expect their $7.3M figure of 2011 to be exceeded in 2012. MAF managed to triple their bill for consultants over the same time period but Treasury (those great guardians of our loot) managed the largest increase to their 2008 spend on consultants with a figure almost six times that of 2008.

Our spendthrift Treasury was not the largest donor to the consultants’ benevolent society however. That honour goes to the Ministry for the Environment who managed to spend a cool $57M on consultants since National Disgrace snuck into office.

These figures are worrying enough, but what horrors lie in those we are not currently privy to?  Land Transport NZ has just recently (no doubt) wasted money on consultants to ‘advise’ on the introduction of the altered Give Way rules. This was another waste of money as the adverts were littered with confusing images and despite the fact the changes are minor they were presented in a way that has left half the country wondering what the hell has happened.

We know that TPK is already in the gun and is in line for a restructuring, so more consultants are bound to be involved in that and we also know there are considerable plans to revamp the Ministry of Economic Development so a small fortune will be spent on consultants for that too.

And last, but certainly not least we already know a huge amount will be spent on consultants in order to effect the State asset sales, for which no accurate figures to prove the Government’s case have ever been produced.  But despite that small hitch consultants will be hired an eye-watering fee and the $165M spent in 2009, which ballooned to $174M in 2010 and then to $188M last year will be blown out of the water.

So if you think about it, it becomes obvious the National Disgrace was well aware of the situation regarding their expenditure on consultants before and during the election while they were trying to discredit the Laboured Party over the same.

It is a shame we don’t have a written constitution in this country – something that could be used to challenge election results where the winner has clearly lied to the voters about material matters.

Something needs to be done quickly because we seem to be heading down a very corrupt path at the moment. It seems every day we discover something else that was going on around election time that was hidden away until the voting was done. For example we have just learned this week that two major meth dealers had to be let go just before the election because the cops had misled the court and hidden vital evidence from the defence. These were not small time crooks; they were busted with $1M worth of P and with the stuff all over their hands. But because the cops didn’t play it straight, (the judge described them as ‘consciously reckless’) they have both walked free with name suppression still firmly in place. Originally they were to have been convicted when the judge thought the police had been muddled and careless because he felt the offending was too serious to let them go. However when more evidence came to light Judge Christopher Allen began to see the actions of police in a more sinister light and overturned the convictions. His decision was made on August 5 but not released until Granny Herald requested it. Ironically (and I might add, rather typically) Detective Sergeant Rod Carpinter who led the investigation was promoted to Senior Sergeant just two months before the judge made his decision. An internal investigation into the police actions is under way and although neither Carpinter nor his fellow officer Constable John Grantham has been stood down, it is quite possible criminal charges could follow.

Interestingly the Ministry of Justice was the second biggest spender on consultants with $56M spent over the last three years. It certainly sounds like the sort of work to get into and it is clear governments are only too keen to shell out a truckload of our money to anyone bearing the proud title of consultant. I think I feel a change of career coming on....   

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