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OIA Request points to beneficiary beat-up by Minister Chester Borrows

13 December 2013 6 comments

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6a00d83451d75d69e2016305affbbe970d-800wi

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In National’s on-going war against the poor; the unemployed; solo-mums; widows; etc, Associate Social Development Minister, Chester Borrows, recently trumpeted “new” developments in the campaign against “welfare abuse”.

He proclaimed  “new” measures by this government to detect and deal to (alleged) fraudsters,

“The information sharing, which compares MSD records with Inland Revenue data to identify working age beneficiaries who have not accurately reported their income to Work and Income, started in March this year.”

Source: Information sharing continues to stop fraudsters

However, as I pointed out in July of this year, Borrows appears to be somewhat “loose with the truth”. The MSD has had the ability to share information with other government departments going back to 2001 – if not  earlier (see:  Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us) .

The initial evidence for this fact lay with two letters  from an acquaintance, who luckily keeps every piece of correspondence from government departments.

The other evidence was a startling admission from Borrows – detailed later in this blogpost – in an OIA request lodged with the Minister’s office in July.

The first of two letters was from 2009,

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winz-letter-2009

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[Published with permission.]

The letter clearly states,

We regularly compare our records with other government agencies…”

and,

The Inland Revenue records indicate that you commenced employment: 16 March 2009…”

(Note; the over-lap that so concerned the MSD was a matter of two weeks, and centered more around confusion as to when the WINZ “client” was deemed to start work.)

Obviously, the MSD had data-matching with the IRD going back to at least mid-2009.

The second letter is from 2001,

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WINZ letter 2001

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[Published with permission.]

Even in 2001 – twelve years ago – WINZ and the NZ Customs Service (not Immigration Dept as I mistakenly wrote) were comparing information.

So for Borrows to claim that “information sharing, which compares MSD records with Inland Revenue data to identify working age beneficiaries who have not accurately reported their income to Work and Income, started in March this year ” – shows either that he has poor knowledge of departmental policy, or is wilfully misrepresenting the truth.

If Borrows is lying, it would be part and parcel of National’s disturbing agenda to demonise welfare recipients and make them the scapegoats of this Tory government’s failure to create jobs.

On 19 July, I lodged an OIA request with Borrows’ office.  I asked ten questions from the Minister through the course of two emails. Here are the questions and responses I received on 12 September;

1. Over what period of time were these 3,139 cases detected?

Borrows replied; “From 18 March to 14 July 2013 the information sharing agreement detected 3,139 cases of benefit fraud which resulted in the cancellation of a benefit.”

2. When did IRD and WINZ begin sharing information?

Borrows; “In May 2012 an Order in Council was passed that allows for Inland Revenue to share information with the Ministry of Social Development. To support this a memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development and the Commissioner of Inland Revenue.

This has led to a new programme of work in which Inland Revenue provides the Ministry of Social Development with income and employer information for all working age people in receipt of a benefit. In September 2012 a test of the information sharing agreement was undertaken to ensure data integrity and system compatibility. Full information sharing for the detection of undeclared earnings commenced in March 2013.”

However, further on in Borrow’s letter, he presents this chart of two government departments and the dates they commenced data-sharing with the MSD,

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information sharing with MSD - borrows

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Note the years given for the IRD (1992) and NZ Customs Service (1996). This ties in perfectly with the letters from WINZ and MSD above.

3. Does WINZ and the Dept of Immigration also share information on WINZ beneficiaries who travel overseas whilst in receipt of a benefit?

According to Borrows; Yes. Though with NZ Customs, not the Immigration Service. My bad.

4. When did that WINZ/Immigration Dept arrangement, in respect to Q3,  begin?

According to Borrows; from 1996 onward.

5. What other government ministeries, departments, SOEs, and other bodies does WINZ share information with?   6. When did those arrangements, in respect in Q5, begin?

Borrows listed the following as data sharing with the MSD; ACC (2005), Corrections Dept (1995), Department of Internal Affairs (2004 onward), Housing NZ (2006), Inland Revenue (1992 onward), NZ Customs Service (1996 onward), and Ministry of Justice (2013)

7. Of the 3,139 illegitimate benefits  found, what was the time period involved with people receiving a benefit and earning income from another source?

How many were within the following periods;

– 1 week

– 2 weeks

– 3 weeks

– 4 weeks

– 2 months

– 3 months

– 6 months

– Over 6 months – under one year

– Over one year

This was probably the most pertinent question, and Borrows point blank refused to answer it, stating;

Your request for information about the amount of time a client was in receipt of a benefit whilst earning income from another source is refused under section 18(f)  of the Official Information Act.This would require the Ministry to undertake a manual search of each of the individual  client’s files to collate the information. As such I am refusing this part of your request as responding to it would require substantial collation or research.”

This is an unbelievable response!

For one thing, it indicates that the Minister has no information as to how long a welfare recipient was earning both a benefit and other income.

Was it one week? Or one year? Two weeks?  Or two decades?

There are many cases of a brief overlap, as the 7 July 2009 letter above shows (where the over-lap was a fortnight before the recipient advised WINZ). There was a gap of  just over a week between the job interview and job offer, and the person’s first induction course.

Borrows simply has no knowledge of how long these over-laps were. If the majority were one or two weeks, this can be put down to human error or a mis-understanding of employment start-dates – not planned fraud.

Worse was to come.

8. How many prosecutions have been undertaken of all nine cohorts listed above?

Borrows replied,

Information about the number of prosecutions undertaken is refused under section 9(2)(f)(iv) of the Official Information Act. This part of the Act allows me to refuse your request as the Ministry is still in the process of deciding whether to prosecute these individuals, therefore this matter is still under active consideration. While I understand that there is a significant public interestin the functions of the Ministry, I believe that in this case the public  interest does not outweigh the necessity to protect the Ministry’s investigation and prosecution process.”

I take it from his response that “as the Ministry is still in the process of deciding whether to prosecute these individuals, therefore this matter is still under active consideration” – that no prosecutions have taken place up until the time of the letter being written.

Not one single person out of the  3,139 cases was prosecuted.

Not. A. One.

So the alleged fraud was either of an insignificant nature (one or two weeks) – or the cases were so flimsy and ill-defined that a Court would have thrown out the charges.

Or they weren’t “fraud” at all.

9. How many have been convicted?

Borrows’ response,

Prosecutions stemming from these cases are still in progress, and I am advised that none have yet been resolved. As such there have been no convictions to date.”

No convictions?

So much media hype surrounding 3,139 cases – and not a single prosecution or conviction.

It seems apparent that this was little more than a propaganda exercise and useful only to beef up National’s ‘tough-on-welfare-abuse” image. Any serious fraud is never countenanced by any government and prosecutions are relentlessly pursued,

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Alleged identity theft for pension

Source

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And lastly, I asked,

10. How many were in actual employment whilst receiving a welfare benefit, as opposed to some other source of income?

Borrows replied,

In every instance of the 3,139 alleged benefit frauds, those in receipt of these were also employed.

Note the Minister’s use of  “alleged”. Without a single court case leading to a single conviction, nothing has been proven. There was no fraud, as such, because no one has been convicted of any such offence.

We have only a  politician’s word that this has happened.

And thus far, Mr Borrows seems to be lacking in any credibility whatsoever.

It is also interesting to note that whilst Borrows knew the answer to Q10 – he had no data on Q7.

If the mainstream media had the time or inclination to delve further behind the press releases, they might uncover the same situation I have; that this has been part of a propaganda exercise by government ministers to boost National’s reputation as being “tough on welfare cheats”.

New Zealand has a dark side to it’s much vaunted “fair go”. We can  be quick to judge; easy led to indulge in prejudice; and punitive to a nasty level.

National’s strategists and spin-doctors are well aware of this nasty side to our collective psyche and play it like a maestro.

We may not force jews to wear the yellow star of David and ship them off to death camps – but when a Tory government re-victimises the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, simply to gain a few polling points, and seemingly gets away with it – then you know that this is a country that is willing to be led into darkness.

And all the while with a complicit media, only too eager to be the government’s unquestioning, obedient, mouthpiece,

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Susan's Editorial Benefit fraudsters stealing from you and me

Source

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Whatever happened to journalists looking behind government utterances?

Or is the new policy Don’t Question Authority?

At the very least, journalists like Susan Wood should have expected payment for her blatant  towing of the National Party-line.  She has shown herself to be a Good Citizen. Obedient. Unquestioning. Loyal.

So when do we start shipping welfare beneficiaries off to work camps?

Would that satisfy that subconscious, punitive urge for New Zealanders?

Or would that finally – finally – be a step too far?

And in the meantime, how many more times will gullible New Zealanders fall for National’s get-tough-on-welfare-fraud propagandising?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 6 December 2013.

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References

OIA letter from Chester Borrows

Scoop media: Information sharing continues to stop fraudsters

Radio NZ: Thousands stopped from getting benefits not entitled to

Dominion Post: House call plan to nab benefit fraudsters

NewstalkZB: Susan’s Editorial: Benefit fraudsters stealing from you and me

NZ Herald: Alleged identity theft for pension

Additional

Gordon Campbell: Ten Myths About Welfare – The politics behind the government’s welfare reform process

TV3: Courts tougher on benefit fraud than tax dodging – study

Previous related blogposts

Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us?!

A letter to the editor

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Bennett & Borrows – where are the jobs?!?!

1 August 2013 8 comments

From a recent Fairfax report,

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Hundreds apply for 90 Fonterra jobs

Source: Fairfax Media – Hundreds apply for 90 Fonterra jobs

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And there have been plenty of other similar situations, where job applicants have outnumbered available vacancies. See:

Employment-Unemployment Fact Sheet #1: Queues for Vacancies

So instead of welfare “reforms” which consist of re-naming various benefit categories and constant belittling of unemployed as drug-takers; alcohol abusers; prolific “breeders”; and mis-treating children – what is really needed are,

Jobs

But aside from a Convention centre deal with Skycity, which will most likely result in more problem gamblers, this National government has done precious little to generate more jobs for the unemployed.

Even the Christchurch rebuild, we are now told, will be done by foreign workers,

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Deal opens door for Chinese workers in Christchurch rebuild

Source: TV3 -Deal opens door for Chinese workers in Christchurch rebuild

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Why is there a “shortage of 17,000” workers?!

The last big quake hit Christchurch in February 2011 – two and a half years ago! In that time, what have National ministers been doing?  Surely they must have received advice from governmental departments; industry organisations; and other expert advisers, that an army of trained workers would be required in the coming years?

Why was no plan set up to,

  1. Assess New Zealand’s current “stock” of skilled tradespeople,
  2. Begin a crash-programme to train people where perceived gaps were indicated,
  3. Organise infra-structure (accomodation, transport, meals, etc) to cater for the Rebuild Army

This is how previous governments built past massive projects such as the Manapouri power station, Clyde, etc: planning.

Indeed, I spoke to one person who worked at the Deep Cove end of the Manapouri Power Project in the 1960s. He  informed me that as part of his employment, his accomodation (aboard the Wanganella) and meals were all paid for.  (He also mentioned how his lunch box and tools kept regularly vanishing, and he thought his work-mates were playing pranks on him. Then, one day he saw a Kea make of with his shiny new lunchbox…)

This was the style of planning, support, and incentives offered to workers to travel to an isolated part of the country where the work was difficult, dirty, and often dangerous.

The building of our nation was certainly not left to the vaguaries of the “marketplace” to achieve.

Because really, when you hear comments like this,

“We frankly can’t run our industry without significant numbers of immigrant workers,” says Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills. “The industry is just too important to be hijacked by a lack of labour. If we can’t get Kiwis in these roles, then we’ve got to make it easy to attract and retain good immigrant labour.”

The problem is there aren’t enough New Zealand workers with the right skills.

“They need to be experienced,” says John Hughes of Rural Contractors New Zealand. “They need to have a work ethic. They need to have an ability to hit the ground running.”

Source: IBID

– this is nothing but a pathetic excuse that the “marketplace” has failed spectacularly to plan ahead and invest in up-skilling New Zealand workers.

“They need to be experienced,” says  John Hughes of Rural Contractors New Zealand, without explaining where that experience will come from if  workers are not hired and trained by people like Mr Hughes.

“They need to have a work ethic,” says John Hughes. Really? Is Hughes saying that since 2008, New Zealanders have misplaced their work ethic?? Yet, the situation of 900 people applying for jobs at Fonterra (see above) seems to indicate that workers not only have a work ethic – they want the work to go with it.

“They need to have an ability to hit the ground running,” says John Hughes. What does that mean? Because what I’m getting from Mr Hughes’ statements is nothing but self-serving excuses that his industry – Rural Contractors New Zealand – has done stuff all to train workers to meet their needs.

Who else is he expecting to meet the needs of the “marketplace”? The State?

But… isn’t the State supposed to stay out of the marketplace, according to neo-liberal business doctrine?

Anyway, this lazy, incompetant government is the last place we should be looking for active leadership on this growing problem (I refuse to call it an “issue”).  As Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said on TV3’s The Nation, on 21 July,

“Any employer will tell you when Work and Income sends some workers to them they will have some of those barriers. That is they’re not skilled or educated enough to do the jobs. They may have some issues with drug and alcohol or mobility, and I think those are barriers that we need to continue to move so Kiwis are first in line for the jobs.”

Source: IBID

So what Woodhouse is trying to tell us is that 95,000 New Zealanders suddenly developed a drug habit, alcohol dependency, lost their skills, forgot their education since 2007/08?

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New Zealand Unemployed Persons 2008 - 2012

Source: Trading Economics – Unemployed Persons in New Zealand

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So the Global Financial Crisis, which National regularly uses as an excuse for the poorly performing economy, had no part to play in the massive growth in unemployment from 3.50% in December of 2007 to the high of 7.3%  last year?

Which is strange, because even social welfare minister, Paula Bennett, was forced to concede on TV1’s Q+A, in on 29 April 2012,

There’s not a job for everyone that would want one right now, or else we wouldn’t have the unemployment figures that we do. “

See:  TVNZ  Q+A: Transcript of Paula Bennett interview

Let’s be quite clear here. When Borrows, Bennett, and other National Ministers refer to “drug dependency”, “alcohol abuse”, “lack of skills”, “lack of work ethic”, and other derogatory terms for unemployed and other welfare recipients – in reality they are shifting blame for on-going chronic unemployment from government inaction, to the victims of National’s “hands-off”, market-based policies.

This is a failure on the part of a government that is so wedded to hands-off, free market policies, that it’s hands are “tied” and cannot bring itself to be proactive on this growing problem.

National’s failure is so entrenched; so widespread; that it is, in effect, utterly paralysed to do anything.

The only recourse is to import cheap foreign labour to make up for this gross deficiency in government and industry  planning.

Once upon a time, our great little nation had the determination, resources,  vision, and sheer guts to build dams and roads  in isolated, rugged, wilderness areas.

By contrast, after two and a half years, we are scrambling to find workers trained to whack a nail into a piece of four-by-two.

With 146,000 jobless (HLFS) there is no reason in this wide world why government and industry groups, with union participation, could not have begun planning from Day One after the February 2011 earthquake.

What, exactly, do we pay the Minister for Earthquake Recovery (Gerry Brownlee) to do?

This mess is further proof (not that we needed it) that a hands-off, free-market approach, will not deliver on large scale development where only  the State has the necessary resources to plan and execute such projects.

Blaming the unemployed for lack of planning may fool some gullible members of the public. But the rest will eventually begin to question why we are importing foreign labour when 146,000 pair of hands are ready, willing, and able to do the work.

Once upon a time, we could do this. We rebuilt Napier after the 1931 earthquake, a more devastating seismic event than the 2011 Christchurch quake,

Few insurance policies covered earthquakes, and many insurers refused to pay for fire damage that resulted from the quake. In 1931 Parliament had passed the Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Act, which provided loans for local companies and individuals to rebuild their premises. Because of the economic depression, however, the funds granted were far from adequate, and repayment terms were harsh. Much of the money for recovery came from charity, which poured in during the weeks after the quake…

[…]

In November 1932, Hastings celebrated its reconstruction, and in January 1933, almost two years after the earthquake, during the New Napier Carnival, Napier was declared officially ‘reborn’.

Source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand – Story: Historic earthquakes- Page 8 – Rebuilding Napier

Almost two years after the quake...”

With far more destruction; greater loss of life (256); less money available (no EQC funding or insurance cover back then!); and limited technology, our grandparents didn’t faff around waiting for the “market place” to deliver results. Nope, they pulled up their sleeves and got down to it.

Whilst it’s true that circumstances between Napier 1931 and Christchurch 2011 differ in many respects – we also have more resources than our grandparents did, eighty years ago.

More resources, perhaps.

Lacking in a bit of #8 fencing wire spirit…

But with a surplus of ideology.

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Show us the jobs!

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 July 2013.

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Other blogs

Ideologically Impure: Oh look, Diane Vivian: Paula Bennett DID come for you

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Benefit fraud? Is Chester Borrows being totally upfront with us?!

As I blogged five months ago, when National is attacked with bad publicity, it’s Party strategists retaliate;

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National under attack – defaults to Deflection 2 - chester borrows - welfare reforms - beneficiary bashing

See previous blogpost:  National under attack – defaults to Deflection #2

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As I wrote in the above blogpost, when threatened with bad headlines or a scandal of some description, National’s automatic defense is to generally to default to one of three deflections;

  1. Blame previous the Labour government
  2. Release story on ‘welfare abuse’
  3. Blame Global Financial Crisis or similar overseas event

In February of this year,  the Auditor-General released a report into Key’s dealings with Skycity. The resulting  publicity became positively toxic for the Nats.

Toby Manhire, in a Listener  article dated 19 February, listed  ten quotes from the AG”s report, which were highly  damning of National. It was by no means the “vindication” that Key claimed (knowing full well that 99% of the public would never read the AG’s report).

On cue, Associate Social Development Minister, Chester Borrows, issued media releases on National’s latest “crack down” on “welfare abuse”;

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Government cracking down on benefit fraud

Source

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National is once again being hit by a slew of bad headlines;

Smith gives nod for open-cast coal mine on conservation land

NZ unprepared for a deep water oil spill,  Greens say

Consumers hard hit by hefty electricity price rises

National’s fix over GCSB draws a storm of protest

Loans door shutting on first-home buyers

High petrol prices hit struggling families

Job ad stall hints at unemployment rise

SkyCity deal doesn’t add up: Treasury

Housing plan ‘a weak compromise’

And again,  on cue, Chester Borrows has done his bit, by defaulting to Option #2,

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beneficiary bashing - chester borrows - paula bennett - social welfare - welfare abuse - bene bashing

Source: Radio NZ – Thousands stopped from getting benefits not entitled to

Checkpoint: Listen to Chester Borrows on Checkpoint

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However, Borrows is mis-leading the public in one respect. On 18 July, the Minister released a media statement where he said,

“Enhanced information sharing between Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has identified and stopped 3139 illegitimate benefits in just six months, says Associate Social Development Minister Chester Borrows…

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… The enhanced information sharing started earlier this year, highlighting beneficiaries whose taxable income did not match what they had declared to MSD. MSD staff reviewed each case, and where the beneficiary was earning enough income that they were no longer eligible to receive a benefit, that benefit was stopped.”

Source: Beehive – Information sharing stops more welfare fraud

This is simply untrue.

WINZ announced this in May last year – over a year ago,

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IRD and MSD improve information sharing

Source: WINZ – IRD and MSD improve information sharing

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But even earlier than last year, MSD/WINZ were leeping track of their “clients”. The following two letters are from an acquaintance, who luckily keeps every piece of correspondence from government departments.

The first is from 2009,

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winz-letter-2009

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[Published with permission.]

The letter clearly states,

“We regularly compare our records with other government agencies…”

(Note; the over-lap that so concerned the MSD was a matter of two weeks, and centered more around confusion as to when the WINZ “client” was deemed to start work.)

The second letter is from 2001,

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WINZ letter 2001

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[Published with permission.]

Even in 2001 – twelve years ago – WINZ and the Immigration Dept were comparing information.

Accordingly, I have emailed Chester Borrows, seeking clarification of  his claim that information sharing is a “recent development”. I have also sought details of the alleged 3,139 cases of benefit “fraud” that Borrows has asserted;

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from:     Frank M <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to:     Chester.Borrows@parliament.govt.nz
date:     Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 1:50 PM
subject:     OIA Request Please

Kia Ora Mr Borrows,

I am lodging  an OIA request with your office.

According to recent media releases from your office, 3,139 cases of alleged benefit fraud has been identified, including 1,948 people who were wrongly getting the unemployment benefit and 559 illegitimately on the sickness benefit. These cases all supposedly invloved working whilst receiving a WINZ Benefit.

My questions are;

1. Over what period of time were these 3,139 cases detected?

2. When did IRD and WINZ begin sharing information?

3. Does WINZ and the Dept of Immigrqation also share information on WINZ beneficiaries who travel overseas whilst in receipt of a benefit?

4. When did that WINZ/Immigration Dept arrangement, in respect to Q3,  begin?

5. What other government ministeries, departments, SOEs, and other bodies does WINZ share information with?

6. When did those arrangements, in respect in Q5, begin?

[and in a follow-up email shortly thereafter.]

7. Of the 3139 illegitimate benefits  found, what was the time period involved with people receiving a benefit and earning income from another source?

How many were within the following periods;

– 1 week

– 2 weeks

– 3 weeks

– 4 weeks

– 2 months

– 3 months

– 6 months

– Over 6 months – under one year

– Over one year

8. How many prosecutions have been undertaken of all nine cohorts listed above?
9. How many have been convicted?

10. How many were in actual employment whilst receiving a welfare benefit, as opposed to some other source of income?

I look forward to your response within the legislated time period.

Regards,

-Frank Macskasy
Blogger

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If the rest of Minister Borrows’ claims are as dubious as his assertion that information sharing between government department “started earlier this year” – then all claims and comments from National ministers demand checking and confirmation.

Otherwise, claims of mass benefit fraud appear to be little more than a propaganda exercise designed to deceive the public and deflect criticism  from economic and social problems that National appears stymied to address.

At the very least, Borrows is taking credit for a policy – inter-departmental information sharing – that has been in place since 2001, at least. How many times can politicians take credit for policies they had little or no part in implementing?!

Wouldn’t that  be fraudulent on the part of the Minister?

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 22 July 2013.

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Mighty River Power, Members of Parliament, and Conflicts of Interest

26 March 2013 16 comments

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On 27 June last year,  on the last episode of TVNZ7’s ‘Backbenches’, Minister for Courts, Associate Minister of Justice, and Associate Minister for Social Development, Chester Borrows, admitted his intention to  buy shares in partially-privatised state owned enterprises.

In an  exchange between ‘Backbenches’ Host Wallace Chapman and Chester Burrows,

CHAPMAN:  “Will you be buying shares in Mighty River Power?”

BORROWS:  “Yes, probably.”

CHAPMAN:  “Ok.”

BORROWS:  “I’m a mum and dad investor, well I’m half of a mum and investor partnership.”

CHAPMAN:  “So you will be.”

BORROWS:  “Yep.”

On 2 July, when I blogged this issue (see: Conflicts of Interest?), I asked three questions,

  • Is this a vested interest in partial-privatisation?
  • Is this a conflict of interest?
  • Is this verging on self-serving corruption?

It will be interesting to find (if at all possible to uncover), how many National/ACT/United Future members of Parliament will end up owning shares in Mighty River Power, and other part-privatised SOEs?

A recent Sunday Star Times story told readers that members of Parliament and government ministers would follow a self-imposed “moratorium” on not buying any shares in SOEs for 90 days,

Cabinet ministers have agreed to a voluntary “moratorium” preventing the purchase of shares by all ministers, and some of their staff, until 90 days after the initial sale.

Finance Minister Bill English’s office said: “Cabinet also agreed that ministers and the staff in those offices . . . should use their best endeavours to ensure that their partners and dependent children adhere to the same moratorium.”

Acknowledgment: Fairfax Media – Call to ban ministers from share float

That is simply not good enough. A politician could easily instruct a solicitor to buy shares on his/her behalf. Or purchase shares via a ‘shell-company‘. There are as many ways to dodge scrutiny as the human mind can imagine.

The implications of government MPs and Ministers owning shares in state assets which they themselves have decided to privatise is a serious matter.

The only three ways to avoid such a spectacular conflict of interest is,

  1. Pass legislation banning MPs or their spouses from ever owning shares in SOEs (not very practical)
  2. Make the Pecuniary Interests register a permanent feature for all politicians to fill out for the rest of their lives. (possible – though a real pain in the arse)
  3. Scrap the asset sales programme. (Much easier.)

If politicians such as Borrows purchase shares in SOEs, it will further lower their reputations in the eyes of the public. “They’re in it for themselves” will become a reality in the minds of people, rather than just a vague suspicion.

We’re treading on thin ice here and the prospect of real political corruption takes one step closer to reality.

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Additional References

Call to ban ministers from share float (24 March 2013)

Previous related blogposts

Conflicts of Interest?

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Putting the boot into boot camps

17 December 2012 40 comments

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crime n law n order

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The genesis of National’s “boot camps” lay in a January 2008 document,  “A Fresh Start for New Zealand “,

They will be designed to give young offenders what they need to make a fresh start – structure, routine, clear boundaries, intensive support and a sense of self-discipline and personal responsibility.  

The programmes will last up to one year and will include up to three months of residential training at, for example, army facilities. Young people sentenced to Fresh Start Programmes will be intensively supervised by high-quality staff dedicated to getting them back on track.   

Fresh Start Programmes will be designed to address the problems underlying a young person’s offending and may include, for example, drug and alcohol rehab, outdoor and physical fitness training, literacy and numeracy teaching and work towards NCEA credits, teamwork exercises, and reinforcement of community values.”

See: A Fresh Start for New Zealand

Six months later, the policy was re-iterated in another election-oriented document – this time included in a mish-mash of  “get-tough-on-young-hoodlums” policies. The policies were highly punitive – basically  “raw meat” politics for National’s core voter-base (as blogger, Bomber Bradbury correctly assesses it).

The one difference was that the Nats had put a costing to their boot camp ideas; $35 million a year.

To really frighten the voters, John Key said in his  opening paragraph,

We need to urgently deal with the kids who pose a serious threat to the security of our communities.”

See: 2008 – Policy on Youth Justice

Serious threat “?! Wow! These kids from (mostly) troubled homes must come armed with weapons of mass destruction?

It doesn’t take a PH.D in psychology to realise that the policies do  pretty much sweet F A to address root causes of troubled youth. A mental image of a sticky plaster on a gaping raw red wound comes to mind.

But at least we now knew how much of our taxes the Tories intended to throw at this problem; $35 million.

Responses to National’s boot camp proposals ranged from the wide-eyed enthusiastic – to the eye-rolling dismissive.

Garth McVicar from the so-called “Sensible Sentencing Trust ” waxed lyrically,

Call it what you will – discipline, accountability, responsibility works. We’ve just become politically correct and operating a social experiment. It’s been a dismal disaster. I think what John Key is putting out there is the first time I have seen a political party offer some constructive policy which I believe will turn this around.”

See: Support for National’s boot camp

McVicar used all the right phaseology; “politically correct ” and “social experiment “.  So he must be correct, eh?

Even Kim Workman – a more liberal, common-sense  advocate of sentencing reform and director of the Prison Fellowship – supported the “Fresh Start ” programme, and  said,

A recent international review of prisons and boot camps confirms earlier research – that they have no positive impact on offenders and usually result in an increase in recidivism.

Fresh Start, on the other hand, promises to use the most advanced expertise in youth offending that New Zealand has to offer, and describes an environment which provides a mix of accountability and support.”

One of the reasons for the failure of earlier programmes … has been the lack of support and mentoring after the offender completes the sentence. The policy has recognised this as an issue and that’s a promising start.”

See: IBID

By April 2009, Mr Workman’s disappointment in Key’s “Fresh Start” programme became public,

When John Key announced the ‘Fresh Start’ programme in March 2008, he stated that that he would use “the best expertise in youth intervention that New Zealand has to offer.” Those experts included people like Dr Ian Lambie, Dr John Langley, Professor John Werry, Professor David Fergusson, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft – and they have all have spoken with one voice against the proposal. Yesterday, a wide range of organisations joined the chorus – including Unicef, Barnardos, the Families Commission, the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, NZ Law Society, and the Mental Health Commission. There will be more organisations joining in the criticism in the weeks to follow.

The proposal was also heavily criticised at three significant conferences in the last two months – Victoria Universities Institute of Policy Studies Conference on ‘Causes of Crime’, the Taumata Whanonga Hui on Behaviour Management in Schools, and the Ministerial Committee on the Drivers of Crime. At each forum, there was a clear consensus against the proposal.”

Programmes like Fresh Start are not new, as the government suggests. When traditional boot camps didn’t work in the USA, ‘second generation boot camps were developed; military type training that ‘added on’ mentoring, post release support, drug and alcohol treatment and so on. What the research shows clearly is that they were no more successful than their predecessor.”

The experts have spoken with one voice – it’s a pity they weren’t consulted before the government decision was made to proceed with the programme. The $35m could be much more effectively spent on early intervention programmes which address the underlying causes of crime. These same people are able to assist government to put together interventions that work – if government is prepared to listen.”

See: Government Response to Boot Camp Critics Disappointing

Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft was quite adamant, “we overwhelmingly know it doesn’t work“.

The offenders were better fed, healthier, stronger and faster but they were still offenders. Putting together young people with disorder problems and cannabis dependency meant their treatment and rehabilitation took twice as long as sustained intervention in the community.

See: Judge says ‘boot camp’ treatment doesn’t work

Unfortunately,  when it comes to a choice between mindless  ideology or common sense and experience by those working at the “coal face”, National will always opt for the former; mindless ideology. It  must be hard-wired into their DNA – right next to their dominant Stupid Gene.

A year later, in November 2010, the first ten young “graduated” from National’s boot camps. John Key met them personally and announced with glee,

I’m impressed with the way the 10 young men who graduated today have stepped up to the challenge presented to them.

Each of these young men has the potential to turn his life around, and this camp has given them all some tools to make that happen.

I want serious young offenders to have every chance to turn their lives around and reach their true potential.

These camps are tough – and that is how they should be. They also give young people the skills they need to change their behaviour and move into the workforce so they can make a positive contribution to our communities.

This Government introduced Fresh Start legislation to hold young offenders to account and encourage self responsibility.

The next phase is critical, but these young men will get the support and encouragement they need to keep moving forward.”

See: PM encourages fresh start for young people

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was also present at the Christchurch “graduation ceremony”, and said,

They will face challenges and temptations but I’m backing them because I believe if they work hard they can turn their lives around.”

Of two boot camp “classes” in 2009 and 2010, involving seventeen youths, the results by July 2011 – three years after the ‘launch’ of National’s Policy on Youth Justice, the results were revealed to the people of New Zealand. Said results were hardly “flash”.

  • fifteen of  seventeen youth offenders had  reoffended,
  • four of the seventeen were in jail,
  • in a weak attempt at positive ‘spin’, the MSD report stated that “eight of the fifteen who had reoffended did so less frequently than before, and nine committed less serious offences than before”.  Hooray.

See: Most boot camp youths have reoffended

Bizarrely, Assistant Social Development Minister, Chester Borrows, said that  “there was no magic wand that could be waved to instantly fix the problems with the country’s most troubled young people”.

MACs are the last ditch attempt to turn these kids around and stop them heading to adult prison and a life of crime.”

See: IBID

Which leads one to the inescapable conclusion that National simply has no idea. Not a clue.

Bennett added,

This Government is determined to keep trying to break entrenched offending.”

See: IBID

Hmmm, I doubt that.

Especially when the epic fail of 2011 seems to have been repeated this year.

On 11 December, National and it’s bureacrats refused to allow further release of information regarding the boot camp programme. A report by Fairfax media stated,

Requests for information about the 78 participants in the seven camps run since were refused by both the Ministry for Social Development and its Associate Minister Chester Borrows, who said making public the information about the “nature of offences or offending” could identify the youth involved.

When queried if this was because the crimes were high profile, such as homicide or rape, the minister declined to answer.

See: Minister keeps a lid on boot camp failure figures

Yeah. I’ll bet he wanted to refuse to answer.

Because Associate Social Development, Minister Chester Borrows knew full well that the following intake of “participants” would also yield similarly shocking poor results.

A report by TVNZ News a month later, on 14 December, showed us the reason by Mr Burrows was so ‘shy’ in releasing the figures.

Of the 31 young people who completed and left a Military-style Activity Camp (MAC) prior to April 2012, 19 reoffended in the first six months after finishing the camp, according to  CYF (Child, Youth and Family).

According to Kim Workman,

When you consider that two-thirds reoffend after six months, what we’re saying is after two years that figure is likely to increase to 85% – 90% which is pretty near what you’d expect if you did nothing at all.

When it was announced it was highlighted as a major part of the Fresh Start programme, and the military type thing captured the public imagination, because many people have had an experience of that kind and have benefited from it.

You’ve got very serious young offenders, many of them have drug and alcohol problems, about 20% probably, have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – these are the sort of kids who aren’t going to take orders and understand the consequences of their actions.

The effort is wasted on them. It’s a question of where do you want to put your money, and it seems bootcamp is not the place to invest large amounts of taxpayers’ money.”

See: Boot camps criticised over re-offending rates

To which Minister Chester Borrows still claimed that “overall the Fresh Start reforms have had a positive effect on young offenders”.

Fresh Start is about getting smarter in how we deal with young offenders. While it is still early days, these results are an encouraging indication that we’re on the right track.”

See: IBID

He has to say that. Any admission that National’s boot camp programme was failing young people and  wasting time and taxpayer’s money, would also be a public  admission that National had implemented a badly flawed policy.

And if boot camps was a flawed policy – what else has John Key implemented that was also poorly thought out and not delivering results?

Perhaps their job creation policy?

National will probably persevere with the policy and then quietly drop it. They cannot afford more statistics of failure such as the last three years have been delivering. Not when other negative statistics such as rising unemployment; increasing migration to Australia; business collapses; near-zero economic growth; a housing shortage; etc, etc are still appearing in our media on a daily basis.

Expect boot camps to be given the boot. (Or “amalgamated” into other programmes.)

Which will then leave National with a serious conundrum; how do they address this country’s worsensing and deepening underbelly of poverty, resultant hopelessness, alienation, and anti-social youth?

National does not believe in State intervention in social matters (except where it concerns beneficiary bashing). They call it “nanny state” government.

But they will have to intervene and look at new measures to combat growing social problems.

That will put them on a collision course with their voter base – many of whom are conservative, right-wing, low-information, and disapproving of  “big government” and “Nanny State”.

As ‘Bomber Bradbury’ said with his usual insight on his blog, Tumeke,

This Government is not about empirical evidence, it’s about raw meat reactionary ignorance for their rump voter base. National’s voter base hate young criminals and especially hate young brown criminals, as far as National’s rump are concerned the fact these crims can still walk and breath is too good for them. The idea of running them ragged through a boot camp pleases National Party spite, and that’s all that matters.

The course doesn’t need to actually work, and it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t, what’s important is the perception that young crims are being disciplined and given a hard time in a military boot camp.

Rehabilitation is considered a weak cop out by National rump voters, they want to see these teens in chain ganged orange jumpsuits, breaking rocks on the side of the road singing Old Man River.”

See: Labour are wrong – Youth Boot Camps a screaming National Party success

This will be interesting.

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Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

The same could be said of most right wing policies.

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Sources

National Party: A Fresh Start for New Zealand (29 Jan 2008)

National Party: 2008 – Policy on Youth Justice (17 July 2008)

NZ Herald: Support for National’s boot camp (3 Jan 2008)

Kim Workman: Government Response to Boot Camp Critics Disappointing (30 April 2009)

NZ Herald: Judge says ‘boot camp’ treatment doesn’t work (14 May 2009)

National Party: PM encourages fresh start for young people (29 Nov 2010)

Fairfax Media: Key meets first boot camp graduates (29 Nov 2010)

NZ Herald: Most boot camp youths have reoffended (20 July 2011)

Fairfax Media: Minister keeps a lid on boot camp failure figures (11 Nov 2012)

NZ Herald: Half of boot camp youths continue to offend – report (13 Dec 2012)

TVNZ: Boot camps criticised over re-offending rates (14 Dec 2012)

Other blogs

The Standard: Boot camps yet another Key failure (15 Feb 2011)

The Standard: Choices, choices: pointless boot camps (17 April 2012)

Tumeke: Labour are wrong – Youth Boot Camps a screaming National Party success (14 Dec 2012)

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