Budget inquiry must be widened

June 4, 2019

The National Party is calling for the Budget inquiry to be widened:

The Prime Minister must be open and transparent about what questions she has asked her Finance Minister since spurious allegations were made that National acquired Budget documents through criminal activity, Deputy Leader of the Opposition Paula Bennett says.

National has written to State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes requesting the SSC widen its Budget investigation into Treasury and its Secretary to address a number of serious questions about the behaviour of both the department and the Finance Minister.

“The GCSB’s National Cyber Security Centre has said publically that it told Treasury its computer system was not compromised, yet both Gabriel Makhlouf and Grant Robertson chose to issue statements implying National carried out a ‘systematic hack’,” Ms Bennett says.

“Among the many questions that still need answering is what information Treasury and the Finance Minister had at their disposal before they issued those statements.

“The SSC inquiry should also include a complete review of all communications between the Finance Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office under the ‘no surprises’ approach.

“It took 36 hours for Treasury to come clean that it was sitting on a lie, and the Prime Minister needs to explain why she allowed her Government to mislead the public for so long.

“Did she and Grant Robertson ask the right questions of Gabriel Makhlouf, or did they take a ‘see no evil, speak no evil’ approach to all of this?

“It is concerning that even after Treasury admitted the Budget information was obtained without any hacking, its statement failed to offer an apology or take responsibility, and continued to disparage the Opposition in an entirely inappropriate way. . . 

John Armstrong isn’t waiting for an investigation he’s calling for resignations:

The chief executive of the Treasury, Gabriel Makhlouf, must resign.

It might have been Budget Day, thereby making his departure hugely inopportune for the Labour-led Government. That’s just tough. Makhlouf has to go. And forthwith. His exit on the most important date in the Treasury’s calendar may have piled humiliation on embarrassment.

It left Grant Robertson’s shiny new wellbeing budget feeling somewhat sick on its first public appearance. That’s just too bad. Makhlouf has to go. He has no choice in the matter. . .

He has to go — and for two simple reasons. Budget secrecy is sacrosanct; Budget secrecy is paramount. That is the bottom-line. It is non-negotiable. Any breach is sufficient grounds alone for heads to roll.

In Makhlouf’s case, there is another factor which should have sealed his fate — competence.

The ease with which National extracted Budget-connected information from the very heart of the (usually) most infallible branch of the Wellington bureaucracy demonstrated the shocking inadequacy of the Treasury’s cyber security.

It seems it is no exaggeration to say that the protections currently in place to guard that information have been at best lax and at worst non-existent. . . .

On top of that, the department’s handling of the aftermath of the breach of security raised further questions of competence.

The rapidity with which Makhlouf referred matters to the police following the hacking which soon enough turned out not to be hacking conveyed the impression that he believed National was responsible.

Although he endeavoured to avoid making that insinuation, in process, he veered dangerously close to soiling the Treasury’s neutrality.
While he might well be as neutral as he ever was, he is no longer seen as neutral. That is unacceptable. . . .

But this isn’t the only resignation Armstrong thinks should happen:

Should Robertson also be tending his resignation as a Cabinet minister or be sacked by the Prime Minister? The answer is an emphatic “yes”.

A breach of Budget secrecy — especially one of this week’s magnitude — is something so serious that resignation is mandatory.The applicability of ministerial responsibility demands nothing less. But it ain’t going to happen.

Robertson is exempt from having to fall on his sword. That exemption is by Labour Party decree. He is just too darned valuable.

Both he and the Prime Minister have made it very clear that they will move mountains to ensure Robertson emerges from this episode as untarnished as possible by placing responsibility for the breach fairly and squarely in the Treasury’s lap. . .

It’s been fascinating following commentary from the left which is trying to paint Simon Bridges as the wrong-doer in the botched Budget saga.

While we are mentioning Bridges, let’s deal with the bogus claims of his critics that his accessing of Budget documents was unethical, even if it was not unlawful. That is nonsense. Since the dawn of time, it has been incumbent on Opposition parties that they expose faults and failings in the policies and procedures adopted by the government of the day.

In revealing that the Treasury’s notion of what passes for Budget secrecy is screamingly flawed, Bridges has acted in the public interest.

Can his critics in Labour’s ranks put their hands on their hearts and affirm they would do things differently if they faced the same circumstances in Opposition? Of course not.

Bridges has simply been doing his job. On this week’s form, it is conceivable that he is going to be doing it a lot longer than both friend and foe have been predicting.

The machinations may be of little interest to any but political tragics but the botched Budget provided the Leader of the Opposition with an opportunity to shine in a week when the spotlight ought to have been on the Finance Minister and his leader, and shine he did.


Novopay report sobering reading

June 4, 2013

The report into Novapay, released by Steven Joyce,  the Minister responsible makes sobering reading.

Among the key findings are:

  • The problems with Novopay have affected public trust and confidence in the Ministry of Education, and also the wider public sector
  • Weaknesses in project governance and project leadership allowed Novopay to go live with a number of significant risks which the Ministry of Education and its vendors, including Talent2, were over-confident of managing
  • These risks resulted in service issues and the Ministry and Talent2 were unprepared and overwhelmed by their nature and scale
  • The School payroll is overly complex due to an accumulation of historical changes
  • There was extensive customisation of the Novopay software
  • There was a failure to involve the users of the Novopay system in the schools and appreciate their requirements
  • There was no overall accountability for Independent Quality Assurance
  • The project has cost $23.9 million more than estimated for a total cost to date of $56.8 million
  • Ministers were not well served by the information they were given on the project. Reporting to Ministers was inconsistent, unduly optimistic and sometimes misrepresented the situation.

“This report makes for sober reading and, while it confirms the view that there is a lot of blame to go around for the problems with Novopay, it provides a greater understanding of the level of fault between the organisations involved,” Mr Joyce says.

“There are substantial lessons to be learned by the Ministry of Education in a number of areas which the Acting Secretary of Education is taking steps to address.

“There are also lessons to be learned by the public service and the wider State Sector on the design, delivery and oversight of major ICT projects.

“As the report notes, these problems are not unique with issues identified in the Ministerial Inquiry into the police computer system INCIS 13 years ago also evident here.

The government intends to act on all the recommendations.

States Services Commissioner Iain Rennie says the findings are a wake up call for the public service:

. . . “Large technology-enabled projects, such as Novopay are complex and require a high level of attention and expertise. This is true for both the public and private sectors, given the opportunities, and the challenges, of rapidly developing information technology, Mr Rennie said.

“In this environment, there can never be a guarantee that nothing will go wrong but, as the Head of State Services, I have made it absolutely clear to Public Service chief executives that they are responsible and accountable for ensuring the effective delivery of technology-enabled projects.

“Equally, Boards of Crown Entities have this responsibility for their organisations. My expectation is that, where needed, Chief Executives will seek support from professionals and act on their advice. . .

Paying people correctly is a fundamental responsibility of any employer.

Teachers and  support staff have been let down by this expensive debacle but at least the report into the latest pay period shows improvements:

Pay Period 5, which was paid on the morning of 29 May, paid 88,525 people a total of $173.53 million.

The PwC report shows that complaints and notifications were received regarding 0.39 per cent of staff across the country, 29 staff were notified as not paid, 115 were overpaid, and 199 underpaid. Affected staff were from 234 schools or 9.5 per cent of schools in the payroll system.

“This was the largest payroll so far this financial year and again shows a consistent performance within the 0.5 per cent steady state error level identified by the Technical Review team. Five of the last six pay rounds have now achieved that,” Mr Joyce says.

Given the complexity of the pay system and all the problems, I really do wonder what’s so bad about bulk funding.

The full report is here.


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