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Increasingly Unconvincing

Entry 1416, on 2012-07-24 at 21:18:18 (Rating 4, Politics)

Our PM (prime minister of New Zealand) really seems to be losing his touch. He's looking increasingly unconvincing regarding his party's policy on asset sales. When being interviewed recently he has been conspicuously lacking in the answers I would normally expect him to have.

He has used phrases like "I think so ... to the best of my knowledge they have" when asked if loyalty bonus schemes have worked for share sales in other countries. It really sounds as if he hasn't bothered to check. Really? Does he not think that might have been a good idea considering the amount of public money involved?

Then he used the phrases "firstly, no guarantee you'll get 5% ... I haven't looked" and "If you say so ... look you might do" when answering questions about interest rates for term deposits. As it happens you probably wouldn't get 5% for a term deposit but shouldn't he have known that?

Then regarding the reward scheme he said "if the entire float earned $5 billion and 20% of investors were mum and dads, the total cost would be $60m based on an Australian model". So 80% won't be mum and dads? That seems contrary to what we have been hearing up until now.

The reality is the asset sales program is a shambles and any reasonable party would put it on hold until the issues could be thoroughly checked and a fair outcome could be assured with some degree of certainty.

Let's look at what's happening. The government is taking assets owned by the New Zealand public and selling them partly back to the original owners but more to large investors. They are then giving away some of those assets owned by the public to the small minority of people who can actually afford them. They make a short term profit which they can use to invest in the areas that they would be able to fund anyway if they hadn't already given the richest people in society a tax cut, and give up the ongoing profits from the assets.

So they are stealing from us all and giving the items they have stolen to the rich. Gee, thanks. I'll remember that at the next election, and so should the vast majority of New Zealanders. And yes, I know Labour have done similar things in the past but at least they learned from the ensuing shambles what a big mistake that was.

I do have to say that I agree in principle with some of the government's policies though. The idea of cutting administrative (what they call "back office") staff to invest more in the staff who perform the core functions ("so-called "front-line" staff) of public services is theoretically a good idea.

There are far too many bureaucrats in the public service (and I suspect in many private companies as well) and any reduction in their number is welcome. But we do have to be careful here. Why are there so many bureaucrats and administrators? Because there is a lot of bureaucracy and administration. If the number of this type of staff is to be reduced then we need to make sure that the meaningless paper work they usually handle is also reduced, otherwise it will just be passed on to previously productive "front-line" people instead.

So it's not so much bureaucrats I dislike, it's bureaucracy. If we are going to continue to have a lot of meaningless paperwork and other "administrivia" then I would prefer to have the bureaucrats handle that even though they are a waste of space. At least the productive staff won't need to waste their time on it instead.

The other misgiving I have is whether these cuts in "back office" staff are genuinely that. No one wants to hear about cuts to the more respected professions such as police but no one cares too much about a few petty middle managers being cut. But is that really what it is all about?

And a large fraction of the pointless administrative burden I see comes from government so, if we are going to see a reduction in wasteful staff positions, we should see a reduction in wasteful activities first. Many of these activities involve producing reports, so-called accountability, and mindless marketing and corporate spin. Who (apart from the bureaucrats who lose their jobs) doesn't want to see a reduction in that? Strangely enough I suspect the same government trying to eliminate wasteful practices might find it doesn't really want to see them go.

So even when they get things right I think this government might get them wrong in the end. I would be happy to be proven wrong on this because I really would like to see a reduction in wasteful administration and bureaucratic tasks. But I suspect this, like the asset sales, is just looking increasingly unconvincing.

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