If can’t count the concrete . . .

April 11, 2019

Statistics NZ has finally come out with the number of partial responses to the census:

Stats NZ’s confirmation that the problems with Census 2018 is not just with the record low response rate, but a doubling in the partial response rate compounds the problems for the State Sector, says National’s State Services Spokesperson Nick Smith.

“We now know over 700,000 people or one in seven New Zealanders did not complete Census 2018. This leaves a huge data hole that will create problems for years in allocating tens of billions of dollars in funding for central state services like health and education, as well as affecting electorate numbers and boundaries for Election 2020.

“Stats NZ needs to accept responsibility for the 2018 Census shambles. It cannot blame the funding when it was 36 per cent greater than Census 2013 and when this budget was underspent. It cannot blame the digital strategy when Australia successfully delivered its 2016 Census with a 95 per cent response rate using a similar strategy.

“Stats NZ botched the delivery of Census 2018 by excessively relying on online responses and providing insufficient neighbourhood backup for others. It compounded the problem by dismissing concerns expressed by Census field offices, commentators and the National opposition when the Census could have been retrieved. . . 

The census shambles hasn’t stopped the department coming out with more things to measure:

Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand is being developed by Stats NZ as a source of measures for New Zealand’s wellbeing. The set of indicators will go beyond economic measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP), to include wellbeing and sustainable development.

The wellbeing indicators will build on international best practice, and will be tailored to New Zealand.  . . 

The indicators cover New Zealand’s current wellbeing, future wellbeing (what we are leaving behind for future generations), and the impact New Zealand is having on the rest of the world. Under these dimensions are a list of topics and indicators developed to measure wellbeing.

You’ll find a link to the suite  of indicators if you click on the link above.  Among them are abstract things like spiritual health,  sense of belonging, ability to be yourself, locus of control and sense of purpose.

If Stats NZ hasn’t managed to properly count concrete things through the census, how on earth is it going to measure these abstract things?

Even if it can, when did spiritual health, a sense of belonging, the ability to be yourself, locus of control (whatever that is) and sense of purpose become the government’s business?

Stats NZ isn’t the only state entity getting touchy-feely.

Eric Crampton reports on a Treasury initiative:

There’s a $35 registration fee for this event at Treasury. . .

I have no clue whether the money goes to the folks running the session or what; I suspect it covers a cost of the deck of cards provided. But they recommend that attendees buy a deck of their cards in advance as practice as well, so attendees would wind up with double the compassion. It’s wonderful how Treasury is helping to promote a small business by hosting it and encouraging folks to buy its products.

Minister Jones would approve, if Heartwork were based in the Provinces.

Here’s the pitch. Treasury is Love.

Imagine surprising Aotearoa with a strain of compassion so delightful that it re-wires our collective consciousness!

COME TO THIS SOCIAL LAB TO CONNECT AND CREATE TOGETHER.

We’ve created a “compassion starter culture” – a network of people who want to create a more compassionate culture in Aotearoa, starting where we are – in our workplaces.
We’ve been playing and rapidly prototyping with the Heartwork Wellbeing Card Game* – now available publicly. 
We know that the intention for what we want to create has a huge power.
We don’t have all the answers. And we can’t do this mahi alone.

So we’d like to invite you into this social lab.

So we can grow an even more beautiful, and more resilient strain together.
We’ll share what we’re learning while we’re still metabolising. . . 

Crampton concludes:

I, for one, love that this is a priority both for Operations and for Strategy and Performance at Treasury, as indicated by the attendance and presumed endorsement of the Chief Operating Officer and the Manager for Strategy and Performance.

Just imagine how better Treasury would have been prepared for the currency crisis after Muldoon lost election if they had thought to consult both their sun feelings and their moon feelings. I don’t know how New Zealand came through it without that. But we will be far better prepared for the next crisis. Treasury may have few remaining economists, but every single person who remains there will care deeply.

And surely that matters more than anything else.

You can watch a video of the card game here.

Not surprisingly the Taxpayers’ Union isn’t impressed:

Treasury’s ‘well-being’ focus is leading it to replace economic rigor with buzzword culture, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union, as top department officials host a ‘social lab’ centered around a ‘Heartwork Wellbeing Card Game’.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The purpose of Treasury is to provide the Government with economic analysis and monitor the success of the wider civil service. It seems this has been abandoned in favour of feel-good card games.”

“It’s no wonder we need a taxpayers’ union when the agency responsible for monitoring public spending is busy trying to ‘surprise Aotearoa with a strain of compassion so delightful that it re-wires our collective consciousness!’”

“Treasury was once a proud institution, a key cog in the vital economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. It’s a bleak vision of the future when you see adult civil servants consulting with their ‘sun’ and ‘moon’ feelings.” . . 

Do the government, and it’s agencies, know about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization. . . 

 

Image result for maslow hierarchy of need

The government has a role in ensuring some of its citizens’ basic physiological and safety needs are met.

The abstract concepts in the indicators come under psychological and self-fulfilment needs. Most of these aren’t the business of government and those which are won’t be met unless the government and its agencies get the basics – health, education, welfare, housing, infrastructure . . .  right.

 


If not sacking AG must investigate

March 11, 2019

Shane Jones is in another spot of bother:

After declaring a conflict of interest in a proposed Northland cultural centre, Shane Jones sat through a meeting when ministerial colleagues decided on its multi-million dollar funding application, even giving reassurance about its governance.

Manea, Footprints of Kupe was among the first group of projects to be awarded cash from the Provincial Growth Fund, a $1 billion a year fund secured in coalition negotiations between Labour and NZ First, which is coming under increasing criticism. . . 

He has repeatedly said he stepped back from having involvement in the project and denied advocating for it.

But documents quietly posted on the website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) showed that Jones attended what appears to be the single ministerial meeting to determine the application.

“Minister [of Finance Grant] Robertson raised his concerns about the broader management and commercial operations of the project,” MBIE official Mark Patterson wrote.

“Minister Jones provided reassurance that as the project has Far North Holding Ltd, the commercial arm of the Far North District Council, involved in its governance structures, he was comfortable their presence would alleviate any concerns on the issue.”

Patterson added that MBIE would manage other concerns through milestone payments.

“Minister Robertson was comfortable to sign the briefing knowing this mitigation was in place.”

Less than a month after Davis announced the funding, Jones was asked by Act leader David Seymour whether he had held any discussions with his ministerial colleagues about Manea.

“I asked my colleagues to make the decision on that project in order to manage a conflict of interest”.

Later he said he “noted” the involvement of Far North Holdings to colleagues.

On Friday, Jones insisted he purely offered “statements of fact” in the meeting and he believed he had managed his conflict of interest, but acknowledged others would consider it appropriate to exit meetings altogether.

“You can physically exit or you can declare a conflict and let colleagues deal with the issue,” Jones said.

“I don’t believe my presence in any meeting with three other powerful ministers has any deterrent effect.” . . 

He might believe that but it doesn’t stop the perception that he used his influence when he declared a conflict of interest and ought to have not even been in the room.

[Act leader David] Seymour said the documents suggested Jones “was decisive” in seeing the funding go ahead to an organisation he had a prior association with.

“He actually provided reassurance to his colleagues, which is at stark odds with  his repeated assurances in Parliamentary questions that he’d recused himself from any role,” Seymour said, claiming Jones had breached the Cabinet manual.

“I don’t see how you can continue to be a minister when something as simple as a conflict of interest, you can’t manage.”

On Sunday morning, Seymour, called for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to sack Jones.

“Shane Jones not only involved himself in an application in relation to which he had a conflict of interest, he also concealed this key meeting in answer to a written parliamentary question,” Seymour said.

Clare Curran was eventually sacked for a similar transgression.

National’s regional development spokesman Paul Goldsmith said it defeated the purpose of declaring a conflict of interest and delegating responsibility, “if a minister then engages fully in favour of a project which Shane Jones appears to have done”.

“We need a full explanation from Shane Jones of his involvement in this project from start to finish.” . . 

 Seymour and the Taxpayers’ Union have both called for the Auditor General to investigate:

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “Ministers have it drilled into them that when it comes to decisions that involve a personal interest, they shouldn’t be in the room, let alone provide advice and ‘reassurances’. Shane Jones’ behaviour will give taxpayers zero confidence that the Growth Fund is being spent impartially or for economic good.”

“Businesses across the country will look at this example, along with other Growth Fund handouts, and figure that the key to profitability is cosy relationships with the political class. That is the path to cronyism and corruption.”

“The Prime Minister mustn’t let her Government’s reliance on NZ First lead to an open season on taxpayer funds. She should call in the Auditor General to investigate Shane Jones’ actions, and be prepared to strip him of his Regional Economic Development portfolio if necessary.” . . 

The Provincial Growth Fund is a $3 billion fund which has been criticised several times for doling out money without the usual cost-benefit appraisal and rigour which should precede largesse with taxpayers’ money.

The Prime Minister dilly-dallied before sacking Clare Curran.

Given the sensitivities with New Zealand First, it is unlikely she will act on the calls to sack the minister over this matter so it is up to the Auditor General to investigate.


Govt can’t cope with CGT oppositon

March 8, 2019

The normal course of events for government working groups is to do the work, submit a report and leave what happens next to the politicians.

That this government feels the need to keep the chair of the Tax Working Group, Sir Michael Cullen, on at  $1000 a day to explain and defend the group’s recommendations is a sign the politicians don’t think they’re up to explaining and defending it themselves.

Paying a working group chair $1000 a day might be the going rate while he’s actually chairing for a day but continuing to pay him that to lobby is outrageous:

The Tax Working Group process has become blatantly politicised with the Government’s decision to pay Sir Michael Cullen to continue lobbying for a capital gains tax, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The advertised purpose of the Tax Working Group was to deliver an expert-driven appraisal of the tax system along with a series of recommendations. That advice has now been received, but Sir Michael is still being paid over $1000 a day to argue for higher taxes. Funding for expert advice is one thing, but taxpayer-funded public campaigning is outrageous.”

“If the National Party set up a Steven Joyce led Working Group and paid Mr Joyce to get on radio and attack the Labour Party and advocate for lower taxes, the political left would rightly get up in arms. It’s the same principle here: expert advice should not be politicised at taxpayers’ expense.”

“Grassroots organisations like the Taxpayers’ Union campaign using voluntary donations. Proponents of the capital gains tax should try to do the same.” . . 

Paying Cullen is in effect a government vote of no-confidence in themselves and their ability.

Government MPs have had remarkable little to say on the TWG’s report, with the exception of James Shaw who asked if the government deserved to be re-elected if it didn’t introduce a capital gains tax (CGT).

That it needs to hire the group’s chair to speak for it, shows it doesn’t deserve to be re-elected anyway.


Govt should look in mirror

December 4, 2018

Fuel prices are coming down which ought to be good news for the government.

But as they drop, the percentage we pay in tax gets higher which only reinforces the knowledge that the government’s impost is too high.

It has confirmed that it’s ordering a market study into the retail fuel market.

This will be an expensive exercise and the Taxpayers’ Unions says the government could save the money by looking into a mirror, not the market:

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The recent spike, and now drop, in petrol prices shows that the market’s influence on petrol price varies. What is constant, however, is the Government’s fuel tax, which makes up close to 50 per cent of current prices.”

“The Government’s conspicuous hand-wringing over the conduct on petrol companies looks like an attempt to distract from its ongoing tax revenue grab – set to escalate with further petrol tax hikes in 2019 and 2020.”

“The Prime Minister is playing loose with the truth when she says tax revenue goes straight into improving our roads. Her Government has pursued a strategy of raiding excise tax revenues to fund projects motorists don’t use – like trams and cycleways.”

This last point is particularly galling.

High fuel taxes spent on roads would be a form of user-pays which is  a a bit less difficult to swallow than higher fuel taxes for public transport and cycleways.

High fuel prices flow on to the cost of all goods and every service for individuals and businesses.

They also impact on not for profit organisations that provide social services and hit the poorest hardest.

If the government was serious about reducing poverty, it would acknowledge the high cost of fuel is one of the biggest contributing factors and the part tax plays in that.

Reducing, or at least not increasing, fuel taxes would be a simple way to reduce the cost of living and therefore help the people it purports to want to get out of poverty.

 


CGT & death tax by stealth

November 29, 2018

The Tax Working Group wants a Capital Gains Tax:

The Tax Working Group has reached a consensus on introducing a capital gains tax, but it is not supported by all members of the working group, chairman Sir Michael Cullen has revealed.

“We have got to the point where we have a central package around the extension of capital income tax which is supported by a clear majority of the 10-person working group,” he said. . . 

I am not opposed to a CGT per se, but to be fair and efficient it must be comprehensive and replace other taxes. This one is likely to fail on both of those counts.

If it’s not comprehensive it will be expensive to administer and full of loopholes making it ripe for avoidance.

If it doesn’t replace other taxes it will be placing an even greater burden on individuals and businesses and act as an even stronger hand brake on productivity.

Cullen said the working group had discussed an alternative option of an inheritance tax, despite an instruction from Finance Minister Grant Robertson that should be off the table.

“We are not supposed to be looking at inheritance taxes but a majority of my colleagues on the tax working group appear to have a found a partial way around that,” he said. . . 

National finance spokesperson Amy Adams says:

“The Government already takes about $50,000 a year in tax from the average New Zealand household and has worked quickly to increase that burden with more taxes on everything from fuel to residential property.

“A Capital Gains Tax will see New Zealanders pay more tax on their small businesses, baches and investments and are known to be very difficult and expensive to apply. . . 

“National believes extra taxes that hit New Zealanders in the back pocket are wrong. If the Government cut down on its wasteful and poorly target expenditure we wouldn’t need any more tax. National are committed to repealing any capital gains tax brought in by this Government.”

On top of a CGT, there’s also the threat of a death tax by stealth:

If the Tax Working Group recommends an inheritance tax in all-but-name, the Government should declare it dead-on-arrival, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union in response to comments made by Sir Michael Cullen in Wellington today.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “The Government ruled an inheritance tax out of scope in the Tax Working Group’s Terms of Reference, but Sir Michael Cullen says a majority of the Group has found a way to include it. Warping a capital gains tax to implement a death tax by stealth would be a betrayal of those terms.”

“Taxpayers were told the role of the Working Group was to modernise the tax system. It’s actual task appears to be preparing the country for an ideological tax grab.”

One of the TGW’s aims was to make the tax system fairer.

A CTG which isn’t comprehensive and a death tax by stealth will do the opposite.

But perhaps the mention of the death tax is merely a diversion to take attention away from the CTG.

 


Political meddling danger to super fund

November 22, 2018

The Suerannuation Fund is at risk from political meddling:

Now, Labour appears to be considering taking steps to require NZ Super to invest in a very specific way in a way no politician has tried to do before.

While no one from the Government is prepared to discuss the plans, it is understood that Economic Development Minister David Parker wants to carve off hundreds of millions of dollars of the Governments contributions to the Super Fund to be specifically invested into early stage companies.

This is often referred to as angel investment. . . 

Angel investment is fine for individuals or private businesses it’s not appropriate for the Super Fund at the directive of politicians.

Leaving aside whether there is a lack of money for early stage companies, a view which is not universally held in the industry, there are bigger issues at play. Having politicians direct the investments of NZ Super is dangerous territory.

Carving up the Government’s contributions to the fund, and earmarking parts for specific areas appears to be a subtle way to direct the Super Fund’s investments. It could easily become a political tool if politicians were able to use their influence to change investment decisions.

Once the door to political influence is opened, it will be difficult to close again, and each idea from Parliament is likely to be more questionable than the last. . .

This is very dangerous territory:

The security of New Zealanders’ pensions is at put at risk if Economic Development Minister David Parker opens up the Super Fund to political interference, says the New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union.

Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke says, “For seventeen years, the Super Fund has been managed independently from the politicians, invested with the sole purpose of maximising returns for the Kiwi taxpayer. This independence has served the Fund well, and increased the security of our pensions.”

“The news that David Parker wants to fiddle with the Fund to skew investment towards particular types of companies should send a shiver down the spines of taxpayers.”

“If David Parker was some kind of investment guru, he’d be making millions in the private sector, not pursuing a career in politics. In fact, his investment decisions are guaranteed to be distorted by political motivations. This conflict of interest puts the security of our pensions at risk. The politicians need to stick to their core responsibilities and keep their grubby mitts off our Super!”

Putting money into the Super Fund instead of paying down debt is questionable.

But once it’s there, it needs to be invested wisely, not at political whim.

Having politicians direct where funds should be invested puts the Super Fund at risk and should not be countenanced.


Participation best protection from corruption

October 23, 2018

Taxpayer funding of political parties has raised its ugly head again:

“The Greens are cynically taking advantage of this week’s political scandal to push their agenda of taxpayer funding for political parties,” says New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union spokesman Louis Houlbrooke, responding to Marama Davidson’s statement today.

“Introducing ‘state money for electioneering’ (which is currently illegal) will only entrench the position of incumbent political parties like the Greens, and suppress political start-ups that could challenge existing powers.”

It will also further erode grassroots participation in the political process and reduce the importance of party membership.

“We must not replace the right to independently, privately fundraise with a system where unaccountable bureaucrats decide what makes political groups eligible for funds.”

“Finally, there’s the powerful moral argument that taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideas that they disagree with or even find morally reprehensible.”

“The proposal is opportunistic, self-interested, objectionable, and would have a corrosive effect on our democracy.”

Amen to that.

If parties can’t attract enough members and supporters to fund themselves the solution isn’t taxpayer funding.

It is sadly ironic that MMP which gives parties far more power has coincided with a serious decline in party membership and participation.

Other parties, and some media, question National’s fundraising. They either don’t understand, or ignore, the fact that the bulk of the money the party gets comes from members through subscriptions and relatively small fundraising activities.

That’s a very real strength of strong membership.

However, like every other party, and most if not all voluntary organisations, National’s membership is well below its peak. That, and the inability of any other party in the country to count its members in the 10s of thousands is a very real risk to democracy.

Democracy by definition should be participatory and strong participation is the best protection from corruption.


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