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This morning the New Zealand Herald covered figures released by the Taxpayers' Union show that MPs are chewing through more than $65,000 per month on payouts to avoid messy employment grievances.
Parliamentary Service spent nearly $400,000 on payouts for former staff in the second half of last year, a period in which the agency was mired in controversy.
Figures released by the Speaker showed that since June, 20 former employees had received a severance payment. On average, former staff received nearly $20,000 each.
Parliamentary Service employed around 650 people including assistants and advisers for MPs in Wellington and regional offices, and also staff within the parliamentary precinct such as security guards.
Eleven of the people who received severance packages had worked for MPs.
Parliamentary Service group manager shared services Anne Smith said the number and amount of payments was higher than usual because the agency was being restructured and because of a high turnover of MPs in the second half of the year.
She said the costs would be offset by the improvements made in the restructuring.
Labour Party MP Grant Robertson said that the payments reflected a turbulent period for the agency.
"It would be fair to say that morale has been pretty low in the Parliamentary Service and obviously from the point of view of MPs we don't want to see that carry on."
General manager Geoff Thorn resigned in August after it was revealed that Parliamentary Service had passed on emails between Fairfax reporter Andrea Vance and United Future leader Peter Dunne to an inquiry investigating the leak of a sensitive report.
Taxpayers' Union spokesman Jordan Williams criticised the costly use of public money to pay out former staff. He claimed that Parliamentary Service was "buying the silence" of workers who had been sacked on the spot by MPs.
A clause in parliamentary staff contracts allowed instant dismissal of staff in cases of "irreconcilable differences".
Mr Williams said he knew of two dismissals in which a minor party leader refused to hear their employee's response to allegations made by other colleagues.
Parliamentary Service would not confirm how many of the payments related to the irreconcilable differences clause, but said the agency followed strict processes in dealing with employment disputes.
The payments usually covered three months' wages and any outstanding leave or other entitlements.
The figures released did not include ministerial staff.
MP support staff: Eleven payments totalling $122,935.
Other staff: Nine payments totalling $273,006.
The two instant dismissals referred to in the Herald story, were due to a minor party leader being unwilling to hear his employee’s response to a minor allegation made by a colleague. The former employees were offered confidential payouts from Parliamentary Service well above what the individuals were advised they would likely be awarded in court.
While every other New Zealander must follow the letter of employment law, information released to the Taxpayers' Union suggests that MPs are often ignoring it and having taxpayers fund the resulting payouts. It appears that parliamentary officials offer generous settlements to avoid cases going to the Employment Relations Authority. We think that protecting MPs with such a practise affords them a privilege that only invites further abuse.
To date Ministerial Services has refused to provide the equivalent information for ministerial staff. The Taxpayers' Union currently has a complaint regarding that decision before the Ombudsman.
The Taxpayers’ Union revealed a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). Two independent reports on the project are damning of DoC. They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces. A selection of the media coverage is below.
Another govt IT project failure - this time at DoC New Zealand Herald - 18/12/2013
Yet another Government IT project has gone off the rails with a new Department of Conservation land management system costing taxpayers millions in budget overruns while still failing to deliver as promised.
And as in the case of the Novopay debacle, officials have blamed an Australian IT company.
The National Property and Land Information System (NaPALIS) initiated two years ago was joint programme intended to replace the Department of Conservation's (DoC) and Land Information NZ's (Linz) existing systems, with Tasmanian company ICS winning the contract.
However documents obtained under the Official Information Act by activist group the Taxypayers Union reveal the $5.6 million project was completed several months late in September last year, required an extra $588,967 to complete and even then failed to function as required by DoC.
DoC has now allocated about $2 million of additional funding to make the programme fully operational.
Personality clashes causing budget blowout Newstalk ZB - 18/12/2013
Trouble between LINZ and DOC
Personality clashes between government departments could be to blame for a failing and over budget information system.
Documents released to the Taxpayers' Union show efforts for the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand to work together to create a database of the country's land have been dodgy at best.
Union spokesperson Jordan Williams says the project is now $2 million over budget, and still not fully operational.
He says two independent reports blame ineffective governance, and even officials from the the two departments not getting along.
System now top priority
An expensive and overdue information system is now the top priority for Department of Conservation bosses to see fixed.
The National Property and Land Information System was due to be finished early last year, but still isn't fully operational, and needs an injection of $2 million for bug fixes.
Director-General Lou Sanson says he doesn't like waste, so he's determined to get it sorted.
He says taxpayers can be assured he'll wring maximum value out of the system to make up for the delays.
DoC admits failings over IT blow-out Radio New Zealand - 18/12/2013
Cost overruns with DOC computer system Otago Daily Times - 18/12/2013
Taxpayers' Union 'uncover massive IT screw up' Yahoo! New Zealand - 18/12/2013
Just after publicly launching in October, the Taxpayers' Union received an anonymous tip off that there was a massive cost overrun of a mismanaged IT project jointly commissioned by DoC and Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). The National Property and Land Information System (“NaPALIS”) had allegedly been a failure, with DoC still picking up the pieces 18 months after the project was scheduled to be complete.
This morning a DoC official hand delivered the response to the requests for information by the Taxpayers' Union. We understand that the Director General will be making a public statement this afternoon.
The material includes two independent reports that are damning of DoC. They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. It appears that LINZ has walked away from the project and has left DoC to pick up the pieces.
We're still reviewing the material, but to summaries one of the independent reviews of the project (conducted by Deloitte), it found:
The NZ Herald have now picked up the story. Our media release is copied below.
18 DECEMBER 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Taxpayers’ Union has uncovered an IT screw up within the Department of Conservation as a result of a tip-off to taxpayers.org.nz relating to DoC’s National Property and Land Information System (“NaPALIS”).
Two independent reports by accountancy firm Deloitte are damning of DoC. They blame mismanagement and ineffective governance for the project’s failure. NaPALIS was joint project between DoC and Land Information New Zealand. Despite DoC allocating over $2 million in additional funding, the system is still not fully operational. The IT project has cost taxpayers over $6 million and LINZ appear to be leaving it to DoC to fix up the mess.
“This is DoC’s very own Novopay,” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of theTaxpayers’ Union. “The two independent reviews show how mismanaged the project was from day one. It appears that LINZ have now walked away from the project and left DoC with a system which isn’t up to the replacing the old one.”
“The warning bells were ringing from the start. There needs to be accountability for the taxpayers’ money that has been wasted on a computer system that doesn’t work.”
“DoC’s internal ‘closure report’ skims over the two damning Deloitte reports. It suggests that no lessons have been learned.”
“While the Taxpayers’ Union is troubled by what has been uncovered, at least the public can now see how badly the project was mismanaged by DoC. The Taxpayers’ Unionbegan researching the issue after an anonymous tip off at taxpayers.org.nz.”
The information and reports by Deloitte released by DoC to the Taxpayers' Union are available at www.taxpayers.org.nz.
What is the NaPALIS Programme?
The NaPALIS Programme and resulting new Land Management Information System was to bring together 9 business groups across LINZ and DoC to create a single, shared ‘source of the truth’ for over 40% of New Zealand’s Land totaling over $6 billion in value.
When was NaPALIS expected to go live?
NAPALIS was scheduled to go live in February 2012. In March 2012, this was revised to May 2012. It went ‘partially operational’ in September 2012. For DoC, the system is still not operational.
How much did the programme cost and is it finished?
The programme is now 18 months overdue and it still doesn’t work. To fix the bugs, DoC and LINZ initially increased the budget by $588,967 to $6,194,134. It appears that LINZ has now walked away from the project leaving DoC to allocate another $2 million to complete it.
What’s the latest $2 million for?
Despite the extra spending by DoC and LINZ, NaPALIS is still only partially operational. The new $2 million allocated is to address (among other things):
Can the public access the material?
We’ve uploaded the information released by DoC under the Official Information Act is copied below.
Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a deal with Hollywood studios that will allow up to 25% tax rebates on film production expenditure within New Zealand.
While we can all applaud our world-class film industry and the jobs the deal will create, why is the film industry so special? Many industries are still suffering from a high dollar and increased international competition. As the Government acknowledges (at least for film producers) tax matters when it comes to business choosing what country to invest - we compete against the world. Why should less high profile or ‘cool’ industries shoulder the burden while the film industry is sheltered – would we better off if the Government worked harder to lower taxes for all?
Click here to comment on this blogpost via the Taxpayers' Union Facebook page. Should we working to become more competitive overall, or should we encourage our politicians to 'cut more deals'? At what point does it become corporate hand-outs?
Not a lot, but according to the government-owned monopoly Transpower, a $1.2million 'cafe-style space' is value for money unlike asking staff to visit the dozen cafes within a few hundred metres of its Wellington office building.
In 2012, the taxpayer owned company spent $1.2million refurbishing its reception and building "The Wire" a place where, according to Transpower CEO Patrick Strange, "we can engage and collaborate with each other, and with our guests."
Back in September, a Taxpayer's Union volunteer asked about the new cafe Transpower had built at 96 The Terrace, Wellington. It seems that calling it a "cafe" caused some offence. Transpower said (even bolding the text to emphasis the point):
The space on the ground level of Transpower House is not a café – it is a space for Transpower staff to meet internally and with our key stakeholders.
Unfortunately, Transpower would not initially tell us how long its lease for the building had remaining. After some haggling, we learned that the current lease expires in 2014.
Following our waste-watch press release (our blog post is here), Seven Sharp picked up the story (click the picture for video on demand).
The Taxpayers’ Union can reveal that the New Zealand Transport Authority's 'Drive Social' campaign cost taxpayers $1,492,395 on advertising, $985,019 on communications and advertising consultancy fees and $301,872 in other related costs. This website alone cost $186,142.
The 'Drive Social' campaign was organised by NZTA to educate road-users that they “share the road with other drivers” and instructs them to “be considerate” (we're not making this up!).
We think that the funds for these sort of self-evident campaigns would be better spent on improving roads or preventing drink driving. The Taxpayers’ Union asked the NZTA to provide cost-benefit analysis of the campaign. Instead, it could only provide us the costs to the taxpayer and ‘media monitoring’ reports.
We can all support advertising efforts to reduce the road toll, but here is an agency spending nearly three million dollars to tell drivers that there are other drivers on the road. It’s bureaucrats spending our money to treat us like children.
Complete with a condescending tone and nursery rhyme-like music the ‘Drive Social’ website would insult the intelligence of most drivers. Judge for yourself at www.drivesocial.co.nz.
Here is an example of one of the campaign billboards:
The Taxpayers’ Union has welcomed Labour MP Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that if elected, Labour will scrap the Families Commission quango.
Government funding for an organisation churning out reports such as ‘Eating Together at Mealtimes’, is better spent on the frontline. We support Labour’s stance.
The Families Commission was only ever a result of an election deal with a minor party. We are glad Labour realise the need for money to be spent where it will be most effective for taxpayers.
The Families Commission’s ‘Eating Together at Mealtimes’ report is available
Since July 2011, the Marlborough District Council has paid $410,550 for website design maintenance and development costs. In comparison Dunedin City Council spent only $35,520 over the same time period.
“The only council that spent more on web design than Marlborough was Auckland Council” says Jordan Williams, Executive Director of the Taxpayers’ Union.
“Even if we assume that half of Marlborough’s residents have actually visited the site, it would probably have been cheaper for the Council to pay for a taxi for them to visit the office. It is potentially a huge waste of ratepayer money.”
Wellington City, which redeveloped its award winning website earlier in the year spent almost one hundred thousand dollars less than Marlborough.
Spending on website design maintenance and development costs since July 2011.
Click 'read more' for raw data.Read more
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