I have made no secret of my criticism of the way parliament has been managed in recent years under its present stewardship. So when an opportunity to fill the most crucial career position in its ranks arises, those involved in the selection and appointment process have some serious responsibilities to discharge. I am about to tell them what they are which, if ignored, will mean that the compounding of the Mickey Mouse reputation already acquired can then be dedicated exclusively to them, because when they were in a position to arrest the decline they would have failed in their duty to make the best decision for the country.
Parliament, and the way it is being run are a joke. It is not fulfilling its role and responsibilities to the people by any stretch of the imagination and the Speaker's continued shortcomings and absence of impartiality are just a recipe for more of the same.
No heed was taken of my letter of September 8 in which I urged the opportunity of a new parliament to find a new Speaker in whom one could have faith that duty to parliament would transcend obligation to government. But that did not happen.
The role confronting the new clerk is therefore going to be challenging enough without the added constraint of inexperience. If it is the objective of seeing Parliament just continuing to operate in the same old hopeless, mediocre fashion which has become the new norm, then there could be any number of qualifying candidates because that person, and the Speaker, could then just continue the appalling management style we have become accustomed to.
If, however, and it is a big “if”, those to whom this appointing function devolves can rise up above the pettiness, political patronage and caving in to their political master which governs so much of what they do then we have a chance of avoiding a repeat of the same mediocrity and incompetence and giving Parliament a chance.
And on that point lest the advertisement and the PSC involvement be misunderstood let me clarify that the position of Clerk has nothing to do with the Public Service. He is not a public servant and is not subject to the Public Service Act. His position is created by the Constitution and his appointment and terms and conditions are governed by the Legislative Service Act 1968-69 which, being my creation, I have some understanding of.
If I have any regrets about that Act's provisions there are two. The first relates to the procedure for the appointment of the Clerk which reads:
<italics>“The Clerk of Parliament shall be appointed by the Queen's Representative on the recommendation of the Speaker made after consultation with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister shall advise the Queen's Representative of the recommendation of the Speaker.”
The other is the dismissal provisions of staff for a breach of the impartiality requirements. With both demanding the involvement of an independent and impartial Speaker concerned only for the integrity of Parliament, any absence of possession of those underpinning characteristics did not bode well for either to be administered properly or fairly. It used not to be an issue but it has become a major one now. If I had known then what I know now, I would have shared the responsibility to an independent panel so the dangers and partisanship now evident could be avoided.
So why is the PSC even involved you might ask? Two reasons occur to me. One has some merit as it deals quite comprehensively with what the clerk's duties are, although some errors have crept in. The other does not. The Legislative Service is perfectly capable of advertising its own vacancies and interviewing applicants but the PSC has more experience with both and if it could be relied upon to conduct an impartial evaluation then involving it makes some sense.
However, it is possibly a combination of the two, because the other reason I suspect is that the Speaker/PM duo is trying to give the impression that any selection is as arms length as possible, having already decided between themselves who should be the new clerk, because whatever name is chosen the final decision and action is theirs anyway so it is all a bit of a farce, because there was nothing stopping them adopting the PSC format and doing the job themselves
Let me digress a little so I can illustrate how little confidence I have in the government appointing authorities.
Readers may recall a letter in your column on October 11 titled - HOM selection deemed a mockery and signed Tavini no te Baseleia. It was in relation to the Ben Ponia affair and the writer implied that the system was not necessarily looking for the best candidate but rather the most compliant. His comments, and mine now, are clearly generalisations, so if you HOMs out there know you were the best available and were appointed on your merit, this is not about you.
I have some personal experience with this. When the HOMs positions were last advertised in 2015, I applied for seven of them. These were all administrative positions and I consider myself a competent administrator with additional hands-on experience in many fields. They were Agriculture, Health, ICI, Internal Affairs, Justice.OPM and Transport. Two I had already done before (Health and OPM) but any of them would have been a breeze. As government was hell-bent on exacting its revenge by destroying my farming business, I thought why not? Keep me active, and paid, which was a bonus. I did not even get on the shortlist. A letter of appreciation and a cute indirect mention in the CI News on June 2 acknowledging the overwhelming response that had been received and with crude transparent reverse psychology, defending any suggestion of some applicants being past their “use by date”. Had to justify the rejection somehow I guess. All of which pretty much confirms this government's main interest is for the “Yes Minister” type. Had I been appointed to any of those positions I would have been obliged to close down my critical letter writing as it would be improper having a HOM writing terrible things about his employer, so there was a lost opportunity!
As the aphorism goes “You get the government you deserve”. It would apply equally to the public service.
Another little tactic employed to give the advantage to the pre-selected candidate is to require a particular qualification which others may not possess, so I went looking for that in the job description. Sure enough, listed there as essential was Bachelor in Management, Public Administration or a relevant field. I would fail this test and so might others, although there is the qualification – “or equivalent level of learning”, so I am not sure whether that would get one over the lack of that qualification or not.
But it does not matter. There is no school that one can attend to learn this job. There is no tertiary qualification that one can acquire which means one can walk straight in there and know what to do. They would help equip one for the long learning process in front, but they do not themselves enable them to perform the duties from day one. No parliament in a responsible world would look beyond those who have acquired years of parliamentary experience to anyone who has not, but that is what I fear is about to happen unless this letter can instil some sense into the process.
There are only three people qualified for this position of Clerk of Parliament: Tepuna Rakanui, Joe Caffery and myself.
I am not an applicant because my pre-condition would be that the present Speaker would have to go but she is too valuable to government, so that rules me out. And then of course there is that “use by date” limitation. Joe has informed me he has no intention of applying, so that makes it pretty simple you would think.
Another name in the hat apparently is likely to be Tangata Vainerere. Tangata is a good man. He is an excellent interpreter, which is where past clerks began their parliamentary career, so he would make a great candidate for the position of clerk assistant/interpreter in which position he could understudy the clerk.
I was also heartened to witness his genuine concern when the former clerk and present Speaker locked down the parliament buildings in June 2016 in an unforgivable transgression of all that is sacrosanct about parliament. So in my mind he has already demonstrated the right credentials. A few years in the job and he would be ready to replace Puna when he retires and I use that word “retire” purposely. The clerkship is a career position. The right person in the job becomes such an institutional part of parliament that his widening experience with each passing year is irreplaceable. He is vital for the proper running of the House. We should cherish such people.
And if anyone knows what is required down there at parliament it is the Public Service Commissioner himself. Russell used to be an interpreter/translator and would know full well what is required so Russell, my advice to you is
resist any pressure and do the right thing. There can be only one name on your short list and that name has to be Tepuna Rakanui.
If however, personal likes and dislikes wrongly enter the process, then I would counsel that unless these can be put aside, the best solution if we are ever again going to see a properly functioning parliament is that any person who may harbour such selfish motivation should, in that greater endeavour, step down - take a break from that pervasive, self-serving philosophy which afflicts so many today and do the right thing by the country for a change.
John M Scott