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Serco, Monitors, and the Corrections Dept cover-up

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Continued from: Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

As I wrote over a year ago,  on 4 August 2015;

 

Questions have arisen regarding the  supposed “safe-guards” Monitors at Mt Eden Prison, and at least one aspect of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract.

According to section 21.2 of the contract between Corrections and Serco, between two to three Monitors were tasked with;

(a) compliance with this agreement;

(b) the accuracy of the Contractor’s invoices or reports relating to the Services;

(c) processes and procedures of the Contractor or any subcontractor relevant to the provision of the Services;

(d) anything else relating to the Services.

[…]

The prevalence of violence (including alleged  “dropping”); “fightclubs”;  injuries; at least one death; drug use; home-brew production*; contraband such as cell-phones; and now three prisoners arrested for involvement in gang-related drug activities – does not seem to have impacted on Mt Eden’s high ranking on Corrections’ Prison Performance Table – the most recent being for twelve months ending March this year;

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Mt Eden prison - prison performance table - corrections department - serco

(Hat-tip: Martyn Bradbury, for above chart)

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Since April 2014, Mt Eden has rated “Exceptional” in previous performance grades. It’s rehabilitation rates at 96.75% – which in itself is odd, as Mt Eden is also a Remand Prison, and 676 out of 952 prisoners (as at 31 December 2014) are on remand; awaiting trial;  and have not been convicted of any crime.

[…]

Not only has Serco apparently circumvented the spirit, as well as the intent, on their contract with Corrections, but it has apparently connived to suppress information, as Kim Vinnell reported for TV3 on 24 July;

There are fresh revelations private prison operator Serco went out of its way to make sure its squeaky clean record stayed that way.

In Mt Eden prison where inmates are king, are guards who say they’re understaffed and afraid.

“It’s about time we all spoke out and say what it’s actually like,” says one guard, who spoke to 3 News on the condition of anonymity.

He says when prisoners or guards break the rules, management would rather official reports tell a different story.

“You’re told to state the facts, but to leave all other things out of it.

“They go missing off the system several times, or they get edited and you’re not told that they’re edited.”

The Government says it didn’t know what was going on, despite the fact three prison monitors – who are Corrections employees – have been there since Serco’s first day.

Under the Corrections Act, prison monitors must report to the chief executive at least every four months. The sole purpose of their job is to report on prison management and any concerns they may have about the prison’s running.

The government claims “it didn’t know what was going on”.

In which case, not only was the Correction Minister’s office kept in the dark – but also the entire Corrections Department. Is this feasible?

It is inconceivable that National Ministers did not know the depth of problems afflicting Mt Eden and Serco.

In which case, this government was actively complicit in a cover-up, to protect it’s credibility with voters – and to  safeguard it’s privatisation agenda.

As I reported in the Addendum to the above story, on 28 July last year, I lodged an Official Information Act request with the then Minister for Corrections,  Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga;

Kia ora Minister  Lotu-Iiga,

I am querying the appointment on Monitors for Mt Eden Prison, which up till yesterday (27 July), was managed by Serco.

Can you please advise  regarding the following;

1. Who employs the Monitors? Is it Serco or the Corrections Department?

2. Who do they report to; Serco or the Corrections Department?

3. Who pays their salaries; Serco or the Corrections Department?

4. Are the Monitors responsible for providing information to Corrections, which forms the Prison Performance Table? If not, who provides that information?

5. Are the Monitors still employed at Mt Eden? If not, why not?

6. Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?

Please respond asap to this OIA request, as this is a matter of some urgency.

I predicted “that Corrections Dept will use a provision within the Official Information Act to request an extension to the 20 Working Day time-limit“.

I was wrong. It did not take 20 working days to respond.

It took over two months.

The Corrections Dept did not respond until 6 October last year. Even then, the information provided did not answer my questions and was totally unsatisfactory.

In response to my questions, “Who employs the Monitors? Is it Serco or the Corrections Department?  Who do they report to; Serco or the Corrections Department?  Who pays their salaries; Serco or the Corrections Department? Are the Monitors still employed at Mt Eden? If not, why not?”

– Corrections confirmed  that “Prison monitors are employed by the Department of Corrections and are paid by the Department“.

The response went on to state;

“Prison monitors review the performance of a contract managed prison on behalf of the Chief Executive. Prison Monitors report to the Chief Custodial Officer. They continue to be employed at MECF  [Mt Eden Corrections Facility].

In which case, Lisa Owen’s assertion on TV3’s The Nation on 2 May, last year, that;

“…The person who employs the monitor— the person who employs the monitor is the company, Serco. They employ the monitor, and pay their wages.”

– was misleading and unhelpful.

On this issue, the ‘buck’ stopped firmly with the Corrections Dept and at CEO Ray Smith’s desk.

Then-Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-Iiga, displayed appalling ignorance in not knowing this salient fact.

The next – and perhaps most important – questions put to Corrections were;

” Are the Monitors responsible for providing information to Corrections, which forms the Prison Performance Table? If not, who provides that information?

Corrections replied;

“The Department releases a Prison Performance Table (PPT)  [see above – FM]  that monitors and evaluates each prison’s performance. Prison monitors are not responsible for providing information to the PPT. The information for the PPT is provided by Serco New Zealand Ltd (Serco), and is verified by the Department[my emphasis – FM]

That question was followed up with this;

“Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?”

At this point, the response from Corrections became  little more than opaque obfuscation;

“Under the Department’s contract with Serco for the daily management of MECF, section 22.2 provides that if an incident occurs, Serco must report the incident to Corrections as set out in Schedule Five. A copy of the Department’s  contract is available on it’s website: http://www.corrections.govt.nz/resources/prison_management_contract_for_mt_eden_prison.html.”

Note that response: “if an incident occurs, Serco must report the incident to Corrections“.

But that was not the question put to the Corrections Dept. The question was “have the monitors [my emphasis – FM] made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility“.

Clearly, the responder to my OIA – Deputy Chief Executive Jo Field – was unwilling to address the question as to what Incident Reports had been made by Prison Monitors employed by Corrections to keep an eye on Serco’s management of Mt Eden.

On October 16, I wrote back to Jo Field pointing out the evasive nature of the response I had been given;

Further to my initial OIA request, I note that your response to my query, where I asked;

“Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?”

On Page 2 of your 8 October response, you stated;

“Under the Department’s contract with Serco for the daily management of
MECF, section 22.2 provides that if an incident occurs, Serco must report the
incident to Corrections as set out in schedule Five. A copy of the Department’s
contract with Serco is available on it’s website:
http://www.corrections.govt.nz/resources/prison_management_contract_for_mt
_eden_prison.html.”

This is not an answer to my question  “Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?”

Under the OIA, you are required to provide relevant information to the question;  1. Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2).  2. If so, what Incidents were reported and when?

Furthermore, under the OIA, I am requesting  Incident Reports, or any other documents, from Prison Monitors at Mt Eden,within six months leading up to 24 July 2015,  to Corrections Dept,  the Corrections  Minister, or any other government agency.

Two and a half weeks later, on 3 November 2015, I received a response. The salient point made by Deputy Chief Executive, Vincent Arbuckle;

“Thank you for your email dated 16 October 2015, requesting  information about incident reports prepared by Prison Monitors. Your request has been considered under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).

[…]

Prison monitors do not prepare Incident Reports; this is the responsibility of the Contractor (Serco). Prison Monitors prepare Monthly Contract Reports, which update senior Departmental staff on issues and events that occur each month at MECF.  These reports are prepared in confidence. Therefore, your request for incident reports and documents from Prison Monitors is declined under section 9(2)(ba)(ii) of the OIA, to protect information which is subject to an obligation of confidence or which any person has been or could be compelled to provide under the authority of any enactment, where the making available of the information would be likely otherwise to damage the public interest.”

(For full email-trail, click here.)

It was clearly evident that whatever written documents had been issued by the Mt Eden Prison Monitors, the Department of  Corrections was not about to make them public.

It was questionable that any such documents “would be likely otherwise to damage the public interest“.  In fact, the only interests that would likely be harmed would be Serco and the Corrections Department itself.

This was to be borne out by the Chief Inspector of Corrections, Andy Fitzharris, who was tasked with investigating allegations of fight-clubs at Mt Eden, and smuggling of contraband (cellphones, etc) into the facility. His report – which was initially held back as Serco sought a judicial review to contest it’s findings – was only recently released.

High Court Judge Karen Clark  said, “To my mind, the report is measured and temperate and Serco’s description of it is wholly unwarranted. The investigation was fair and the report is without error.

The Chief Inspector’s report was damning of Serco and critical of the Corrections Department.

More critically, the Inspector was able to learn why Prison Monitors had been impotent in the face of Serco’s mis-management of the facility.

The role of Prison Monitors is /was crucial to ensuring that Serco met it’s obligation under contract with the Crown and Corrections NZ. According to the Corrections Act 2004, the Monitors would be tasked with reporting on;

  • i) the management of that prison; and

  • (ii) whether or not the contractor responsible for the management of that prison is complying with that contractor’s prison management contract and with the provisions of this Act, and any regulations made under this Act, and any instructions or guidelines issued by the chief executive under section 196 that are applicable to the prison.

The Prison Inspector’s Report was even more explicit in the role of Prison Monitors;

14. “The principal means of oversight is via Monitors, who are appointed under the Corrections Act 2004 to assess and review the management of MECF. Serco is required to provide incident reports and performance reports to Monitors. The on-site monitoring team is managed by Corrections’ Relationship Manager Private Prisons, who reports to Corrections’ Chief Custodial Officer.

15. “…Carrying out daily observation walks through MECF, and observing operational practice.

…Conducting a daily review of incidents and prisoner complaints.” – p9

“If an issue raised by Monitors or auditors is not able to be resolved through informal discussions and consultation with Serco management, the matter can be referred to Commercial Contracts Team. This team conducts service audits to monitor contractual compliance, liaises closely with the Monitors, and can recommend the issuance of Performance Notices for non-trivial breaches of the Contract. Corrections has a range of powers available to it under the Contract, including issuing directions to Serco to remove personnel who are not considered to be fit and proper, or adequately trained, including the Prison Director. The primary means of managing contractual non-compliance is through issue of a Performance Notice. A Performance Notice requires Serco to investigate and resolve the root cause of any breach, and can lead to a Final Warning Notice.  The Commercial Contracts Team is also responsible for calculation of the Performance Related Fee.” – p10

320. “A contractor must ensure that any monitor has free and unfettered access at all times to:

a) every part of the contract prison managed by that contractor;
b) all prisoners in that prison;
c) all persons who work in that prison, but only when they are actually in the prison; and
d) all records held by the contractor that relate to;
I. that prison;
II. any prisoner or former prisoner; or
III. any staff member or former staff member of that prison.” – p79

321/o. “If considered necessary, immediately reporting any matters of concern to the Serco management team. If the monitors consider that the issues are not being adequately dealt with, they may issue a ‘Monitor’s Request’. If the request is not dealt to in a timely manner the monitors may issue a direction instructing the contractor to resolve the matter, or provide assurance of a resolution. The direction is used in cases whereby the Monitors seek assurance that the safety and security site has not been compromised.” – p80

However, that role was subverted as Serco piled on the pressure and Monitors’ roles blurred between observing and reporting, and becoming more task-oriented;

“The Monitors’ relationship with Serco was often very difficult. They would sometimes experience significant ‘pushback’ from Serco when raising issues requiring remedial action such as meal distribution, homebrew, graffiti in cells, and disorderly evening lockup. Following a lack of timely action, the Monitors appear in many cases to have accepted Serco’s position as to the adequacy of its own response to identified issues. The extensive ‘pushback’ and challenge received from MECF management was successful in shifting Monitors’ focus away from core issues, and minimising the Monitors’ criticisms of the significance of the issues identified.” – p5

“* confusion in that the Monitors believed they did not have any statutory power if issues did not directly relate to a breach of Contract, legislation, or the Chief Executive instructions…

* a task-orientated focus on scheduled reviews, which may have distracted Monitors from undertaking observations and recording issues as they arose; and

* lack of specific training or guidelines for the role of a Monitor.” – p6

That “pushback” from Serco was manifested when they attempted to unsuccessfully exploit legal action to suppress or dilute down the Inspector’s Report;

In the High Court in Wellington yesterday, Justice Clark rejected Serco’s application for review and ordered the company to pay costs, saying its description of the report as “a collection of unsubstantiated claims and allegations drawn together in such as way as to willfully portray Serco in the worst possible light and to minimise any criticism of the department” was “unfounded and inaccurate.”

Contrary to Corrections stating in their 3 November 2015 OIA response that “Prison monitors do not prepare Incident Reports; this is the responsibility of the Contractor (Serco). Prison Monitors prepare Monthly Contract Reports, which update senior Departmental staff on issues and events that occur each month at MECF. 

– it is clear that Monitors did indeed record incidences relating to various staffing, violence, and health-related problems (referred to as “issues” in business/bureaucratic jargon);

131/b. On 7 February 2014, Monitors noted that “incidents appear to be taking place in the units when the staff are out of the unit/s for short periods of time”, and that “a visit to Delta unit on Friday 07 Feb did identify nil staff in the wings of both Delta 1 and Delta 2 [i.e. both Delta Unit pods].” – p41

131/c. “On 28 February 2014, it was reported that the Monitors’ observations over a two week period showed that unit pods were being left unstaffed while prison officers conducted prisoner escorts and attended to other duties.” – p41

131/e. “On 9 June 2014, the Monitors observed that staff shortages meant some prisoners did not receive breakfasts.” -p41

The Inspector pointed out  the experience of two of the three Prison Monitors;

319. “It is noted that two of the three monitors have been in the role for approximately four years.” – p79

But experience was gained at the expense of lack of training;

350. “The Investigation found that there was no specific training given to Monitors in respect of their role, authority and responsibilities at MECF. In my view, Monitors ought to be given training specific to the requirements of their role, which includes reporting on the management of the prison as well as contractual compliance. There is a need for a training package to be developed to ensure Monitors are suitably equipped to undertake the tasks required of them.” p85

There also appeared to be a “silo-isation” of Corrections management, resulting in paralysis where Serco’s shortcomings were obvious but not acted on;

328. “The Chief Custodial Officer (CCO) provides informed advice on emerging custodial practices and developments worldwide, and maintains an overview of research trends and future thinking…

329. The CCO is in daily contact with the Relationship Manager and matters arising from MECF are discussed. The CCO advised that he does not hold any authority over provisions of the Contract with Serco nor does he hold a separate statutory monitoring power…

330. He believed that there was no formal process for him to elevate matters raised by the Monitors to the Chief Executive. He understood that the appropriate formal processes for elevating these matters by the Monitors was through the Northern Regional Commissioner or Director Commercial. Accordingly, the Monitors report contractual breaches to the Commercial Contracts team. Custodial and operational issues were elevated to the Northern Regional Commissioner who is responsible for operations at all prisons in the Northern region, including MECF.” p81

Where instances of short-coming were presented to Serco, the private contractor actively fobbed off the Monitors;

332/a. “…The Monitors sent a request to MECF for a FFR [Fact Finding Reviews – FM] on 24 March 2015 in regards to the allegation of “prisoners arranging fights” they had raised on the Issues Log. A FFR conducted by Serco management, was received on 30 March 2015 and was deemed not up to standard by the Monitors. The issue was closed off on 20 April 2015 after the Monitors received an updated FFR. However the second FFR does not address the issues raised by the Relationship Manager in respect to the first FFR<b> and appeared to be the same report</b> [My emphasis – FM] . No further action was taken by the Monitors or Serco.” p.82

In case the above point was lost on anyone in government or Correction, the Prison Inspector spelled it out;

333. “I believe that in the instances identified above, the Monitors were ineffective in following up on remedial actions to the issues they had raised. Issues were prematurely removed from the Issues Log without satisfactory remedial response or action from Serco.” p.82

The effectiveness of Prison Monitors then became diluted and confused;

340. “The Monitors reported that they considered that they were required to establish a balance between reporting potential non-compliance by Serco, and providing advice on operational matters to Serco. There was therefore some confusion among Monitors as to the appropriate steps required to address identified issues.

342. I believe that this raises potential risk of a conflict of interest, in that Monitors who may have provided advice to Serco on policy matters may be compromised if they are required to monitor and direct action in regard to situations where they have provided “expert advice”.” p84

Serco was only too happy to assist with the neutering of Prison Monitors as they increased pressure on the three staffers;

344. “The Monitors advise that their relationship with MECF management was often very difficult. They would sometimes experience significant ‘pushback’ from the MECF Prison Director when raising issues requiring remedial action. There is no evidence that their objectivity and independence has been compromised.

345. However, I believe the Monitors have been overwhelmed, worn down and consumed by MECF management continually challenging their requests for resolution to matters.” p84

The Prison Inspector further pointed out that;

344. “The Monitors advise that their relationship with MECF management was often very difficult. They would sometimes experience significant ‘pushback’ from the MECF Prison Director when raising issues requiring remedial action. There is no evidence that their objectivity and independence has been compromised.
345. However, I believe the Monitors have been overwhelmed, worn down and consumed by MECF management continually challenging their requests for resolution to matters.
346. This is evident from certain entries in the Issues Log, which show Monitors escalating issues through the Relationship Manager without appropriate resolution. Following a lack of timely action, the Monitors have accepted Serco’s decision as to the adequacy of its own response to identified issues. The extensive ‘pushback’ and challenge received from MECF management would shift the focus, or minimise the significance of the issue concerned.” – p84

Serco’s response was, by now, wholly predictable and the Prison Inspector was candid in his criticism;

348. “Serco does not accept the characterisation of its actions as ‘pushback’. It says that its relationship with Monitors was “a robust one, as should be expected in a complex environment such as MECF”. Whatever language is used, I consider that the Monitors’ effectiveness was affected by Serco’s persistent challenges to the issues they raised.” – p85

However, this was not simply the fault of stressed, overwhelmed, worn down Prison Monitors.

Nor even Serco which exploited what it quickly perceived as weaknesses in the system, and an ideologically-driven government that was sensitive to any suggestion that it’s privatised prison model was failing on all levels.

Corrections NZ should also be held to account.

It is my belief, based on the obfuscatory nature of OIA responses from Corrections NZ, that it was unwilling to answer specific questions regarding Prison Monitors.

The responses from Corrections NZ were not just shrouded in ‘bureaucratese’ – they were a deliberate ploy not to provide answers to specific questions.

But more damning is a discovery by the Inspector of a secret report in July 2014 that was ultimately suppressed;

36. In May 2014, Corrections received information from a Probation Officer that she had been informed by offenders that there was organised fighting occurring at MECF.

37. On the basis of the information received, the PSU made enquiries, which included interviewing the probation offenders who alleged there was a significant amount of fighting taking place, particularly in two units. Offenders had also made allegations that staff were involved in assaults, gambled on fights, and placed prisoners in dangerous situations. However the PSU investigation concluded that there was no substantiated evidence supporting these claims.

38. Following the PSU enquiry, the National Commissioner of Corrections directed an operational review of this issue. Two principal custodial advisors were appointed as special monitors (the Special Monitors), and undertook an investigation in June 2014. The Terms of Reference for the Special Monitor’s report were to investigate the allegations of organised fighting uncovered by PSU’s enquiries. The methodology included: reviewing all available CCTV footage and interviewing any prisoners, staff or incident notification reports that related to fights and assaults.

39. A final draft of the Special Monitors’ report was completed on 9 July 2014 and a copy delivered to the office of the National Commissioner.

40. The Special Monitors’ draft report found that:

a) Prisoner interviews indicate that organised fighting was occurring.
b) All prisoners who confirmed the existence of organised fighting said it was being organised by criminal gangs.
c) There was no evidence of staff involvement other than reports by prisoners, but staff at MECF must at least be aware of the existence of organised fighting.
d) Staff who confirmed that organised fighting had occurred around 12 months ago said that incidents had occurred during periods of reduced staffing.

41. The report was never finalised, but was provided in redacted draft to the MECF Prison Director in May 2015. <b><i>The Prison Director has stated that he was told not to reveal the contents of the report to anyone. </i> </b> [My emphasis. – FM]

42. The reasons why this report was never finalised were investigated by a separate body to this investigation. I am of the view that this report should have been finalised and provided to Serco. The failure to finalise the report is not attributed to Serco. Two independent members of the Corrections’ Audit and Risk Committee had been tasked with reviewing the management of this report under terms of reference approved by the Chief Executive. I have been provided a copy of their review which supports my belief that the original report should have been finalised and provided to Serco, and escalated to Corrections senior management including the CE. The Investigation will not include any further consideration of this matter. p13/14

Corrections NZ knew more than it has let on. That is why the 2014 Report was ‘buried’.

It was only when the video-evidence of “fightclub” footage on Youtube  emerged that Corrections NZ could no longer keep turning a blind eye to Serco’s mis-management at Mt Eden. The dirty little secret was out in the open for all to see.

It is my considered belief that Corrections NZ – up to the very  senior levels of management – knew what was happening at Mt Eden.

The reason that Corrections chose a deliberate policy of ignoring the growing crisis at Mt Eden was simple: do not embarrass the government. This policy is central to National’s credibility to govern;

A former high-ranking Customs lawyer says he resigned from his job after allegedly being told to bury information that could embarrass the Government.

Curtis Gregorash said he was told by senior Customs executives to refuse Official Information Act and Privacy Act requests, which he believed was at the direction of former Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.

It comes at a time the Prime Minister’s office is under inquiry over the release of intelligence material through the OIA and accusations that former Justice Minister Judith Collins was manipulating OIA responses for political purposes.

There is now growing evidence that the new prison at Wiri is also experiencing problems under it’s Serco administration;

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sercos-prison-fight-clubs-might-have-spread-to-wiri-labour-tv3

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This time, however, we can only hope that the Prison Inspector and Prison Monitors will force Corrections NZ not to look the other way.

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References

Corrections Dept: Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility

NZ Herald: Head Hunters raids – Police investigating former Mt Eden prison guard

Corrections Dept: Prison Performance Table

TV3: Mt Eden prison guards ‘understaffed, afraid’

Scoop  media:  The Nation – Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga

Corrections Dept: Inspector of Corrections

Corrections Dept: Chief Inspector’s Reports into Circumstances surrounding organised prisoner on prisoner fighting (Fight Club) and access to cell phone contraband (background & terms of reference)

Radio NZ: Serco challenges Mt Eden fight report

NZ Herald: Serco investigation ‘fair’ – High Court

NBR: Serco’s criticism of Mt Eden fight club report ‘wholly unwarranted’, judge says

Corrections Dept: Chief Inspector’s Reports into Circumstances surrounding organised prisoner on prisoner fighting (Fight Club) and access to cell phone contraband (redacted report)

Corrections Dept: Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility

Legislation.govt.nz: Corrections Act 2004 – 199E – Monitors

NZ Herald: Ex-govt lawyer’s ‘bury bad news’ claim

TV3 News: Serco’s prison fight clubs might have spread to Wiri – Labour

Additional

Radio NZ: New details about Mt Eden Prison fight clubs released

Radio NZ: Serco sacked dozens of staff while running prisons

Radio NZ: Serco lost $10m after Mt Eden fiasco

Radio NZ: PM admits Govt uses delaying tactics

Other blogposts

No Right Turn: A failure of privatisation

The Daily Blog: So the SERCO fight clubs were weekly?

The Daily Blog: Hold on, wait, there was a secret SERCO report that was smothered? Things you’re missing because of rugby toilet sex

The Standard: The Chief Prison Inspector’s report on Serco and MECF

Previous related blogposts

So what is the rationale for private prisons?

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

 

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Serco cartoon

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 9 October 2016.

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On ‘The Nation’ – Anne Tolley Revealed

2 October 2015 5 comments

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children-crossing-triangle-sign

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On past occassion, I have been critical of ‘The Nation‘ for not making greater use of facts and data when confronting National ministers. Without cold, hard facts and stats, slippery Ministers like Steven Joyce can find wiggle-room to avoid straight answers and indulge in wild flights of fantasy-spin.

But when the team at ‘The Nation‘ get it right, they do it well, and Ministers are laid bare for the public to see, hear, and assess for themselves.

Cases-in-point, the 2 May interview with Corrections Minister, Sam  Lotu-Iiga, and the more recent (26 September) interview with Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley;

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The Nation - Interview - Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

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Both interviews showed Ministers out of their depths, and grappling with critical problems that apparently have “snuck up” on them – though the rest of the country had long been aware that not all was well in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and possible Red Peak).

Recent “revelations” of massive problems for children in State-care are only confirmation of what many in the sector already knew. According to Tolley’s own speech to the Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference  on 24 September;

By the time children with a care placement who were born in the 12 months to Jun 1991 had reached the age of 21:

Almost 90 per cent were on a benefit.

Over 25 per cent were on a benefit with a child.

Almost 80 per cent did not have NCEA Level 2.

More than 30 per cent had a youth justice referral by the age of 18.

Almost 20 per cent had had a custodial sentence.

Almost 40 per cent had a community sentence.

Overall, six out of every ten children in care are Māori children.

[…]

64 per cent of the 61,000 children notified to CYF in 2014 had a previous notification.

In 2013, children who had been removed from home were on average 8 years old and many of these children had been involved with the system since 2 or 3 years of age.

[…]

Seven year-old children should not have eight different home placements.

A study of those in care in 2010 showed that 23 per cent of children who exited care and returned to their biological parents were subject to neglect or physical, emotional or sexual re-abuse within 18 months. Ten per cent of those who returned to kin or whānau were re-abused, while re-abuse rates for those who exited into non-kin and non-whānau placements was one per cent.

It has taken seven years for a National minister to come to understand this? Where have they been all this time – playing golf on Planet Key?

But not only has  this government ignored this crisis in supporting young people in State care – but they have been criminally guilty of making matters worse by job cuts and destabilisation by constant re-organisation of  MSD (Ministry of Social Development);

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Job cuts for MSD

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Then Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, was adamant that there would be more frontline social workers, despite the massive number of redundancies. Her mantra at the time was;

”I can absolutely assure them that the concentration is on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most, and that’s where this Government is putting their priorities.”

Take note that in the “re-structuring”  in 2009, the job cuts included “a team of 18 child abuse education social workers“.  In effect,  skilled professionals working on behalf of children suffering abuse were sacked.

Only the Minister of Finance trying to balance his books, and those who perpetrate child abuse on small bodies, could possibly have been delighted at that announcement.

To deflect criticism from the growing problem of  child poverty and New Zealand’s “under-class” (which, in  October 2011, even Key was forced to admit was rising), Bennett resisted demands to assess just how bad the problem really was;

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Combating poverty more important than measuring it - Paula Bennett - MSD

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No measurement; no way of telling how bad it is. Very clever, Ms Bennett.

But worse was to come, as National slashed the state sector to make up for revenue lost through two tax cuts and the recessionary effects of the Global Financial Crisis;

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MSD restructure lacks transparency

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98 MSD staff face the axe - union

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This time, the person over-seeing on-going job-losses and re-structuring was the current Social Development Minister, Anne Tolley. This time, the cuts were given a new euphemism; “re-alignment”.

Despite Bennett’s reassurances in June 2009  that there would be a “concentration […] on frontline staff, on social workers that are working with those people that need it most” – six years later the cutting of back-room support staff resulted in inevitable (and predictable) consequences. As Tolley herself was forced to admit on ‘The Nation‘;

“Well, there’s 3000-odd staff, but only 25% of them are actually working with children. And of that 25%, they’re only spending 15% of their time actually with children.”

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twitter - msd job cuts - anne tolley - the nation

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At that point, Lisa Owen asked Minister Tolley the question;

“So are you telling me that we need more back-room staff to allow those people to get on to the front line and deal with the kids?”

Tolley’s reply was pure gobbledegook;

“What we need is a system that is designed to look after those children when they first come to our attention, we need good interventions with them and their families, and we need to free up the front-line social workers to do the work they come in every day to do which is to work with children, not a system that’s built on layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration, which is what we’ve got now.”

The reason it is risable gobbledegook is that after hundreds of job losses – of mostly so-called “back room staff” one assumes – and restructurings, there cannot be too many “layers and layers of risk management and bureaucracy and administration” left in MSD.

Lisa Owen pushed the Minister further;

“…But some evidence that was provided last year was the case-load review, which said that you were 350 social workers short. So can we expect more social workers?”

When the Minister offered vague assurances that “we may well” expect more social workers, Ms Owen was blunt;

“But ‘may well’ is not a definitive answer, is it, Minister? So yes or no? Will we get more?”

Tolley’s response was anything but reassuring;

“I don’t know, because the final system proposal will come to me in December, so I’m not going to pre-empt what the panel’s coming up with. What they’ve done in this interim report is give us the building blocks…”

Listening to the Minister was not only far from reassuring, but left a sense of unease.

Our esteemed Dear Leader, John Key, has already said that “outsourcing” to private providers for MSD services is possible;

“Child Youth and Family does outsource to the private sector already some contracts, and I think last year $81 million of business went to private sector contractors, so I can’t get up and say there is no involvement with the private sector, because there already is that.

I don’t think we’re seriously talking about the private sector taking control of all the children, but if there is some small function they could do, maybe, I’d have to see what that is.”

“Some small function”?

What is Key referring to – delivery of afternoon tea and biscuits to CYF staff?

Or, as more likely, would “some small function” involve Serco – already in deep trouble over it’s incompetence over running of Mt Eden prison?

This is a possibility that Tolley herself touted as a possibility on TVNZ’s ‘Q+A‘, as recently as June this year;

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Tolley Serco could run social services - MSD - CYF

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On 31 August,  CEO of the Association of Social Workers, Lucy Sandford-Reed,was reported on Radio NZ as saying  she believed call-centre operations might be outsourced;

“That really creates an opportunity for further fragmentation of the service delivery and could potentially create the opportunity for failure. And there has been a sense that a organisation like Serco could be looking at picking up those contracts.”

Tolley was adamant on ‘The Nation‘ that there would be no outsourcing of MSD’s front-line services. She told Lisa Owen to her face;

“Look, I- Let’s put it to rest – this is a state responsibility. There’s no talk within Government at all of outsourcing that responsibility.”

However, only two days earlier (24 September), it was reported that Serco had indeed been ‘sniffing’ around CYF facilities in Auckland;

CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Thursday 24 Sep 2015 4:30 p.m.

Serco case managers have visited several Child, Youth and Family facilities in Auckland, Social Development Minister Anne Tolley has confirmed.

She’s previously denied knowledge of such visits, and told Parliament today she had been given incorrect advice by her ministry.

“I apologise for giving an incorrect answer (to previous questions)… I’m disappointed that I got incorrect information,” she said.

Opposition MPs suspect the visits were connected with the possibility of some CYF services being contracted out to Serco.

The question that begs to be asked is; why has National drawn attention to the (supposed) “failings” of CYF/MSD? Why was Tolley so eager to receive a report so scathing of her own department, as she stated in her 27 August press statement;

“I welcome the release of this report, which makes for grim reading for those involved in child protection, and have met with the Commissioner to discuss his findings.”

Usually, this is a government whose ministers are desperate only to present “good news” stories. They are quick to dismiss, minimise, or deride any criticism that does not fit with their “good management” narrative. Blaming the previous Labour government has become the #1 Default position of National ministers.

The only possible rationale why Tolley has commissioned a report into MSD/CYF – where no public or media pressure had demanded one – is that Paula Rebstock’s highly critical findings of MSD/CYF were pre-determined.

As Chris Trotter wrote in his analysis of Rebstock’s report on 2 April;

“The Rebstocks of this world are spared the close-up consequences of their recommendations. They are experts at reading between the lines of their terms of reference to discover exactly what it is that their commissioning ministers are expecting from them – and delivering it. So it was with Paula Bennett’s welfare review, and so it will be with Anne Tolley’s review of Child Youth and Family (CYF).

Once again in the lead role, Ms Rebstock will not have to work too hard to decode the meaning of Ms Tolley’s comment that: “CYF has drafted its own internal modernisation strategy and while it is a good starting point, it doesn’t go far enough”.”

Without doubt, Rebstock’s eventual (and predictable?) report into MSD/CYF was highly critical of that organisation.

Key has publicly disclosed that he is not averse to privatisation (aka, “outsourcing”) aspects of MSD/CYF’s services.

Despite Tolley’s denials, Serco has shown interest in CYF facilities.

Which leads to the inescapable conclusion that the Rebstock report; the willingness of Ministers to front up to the media to candidly admit to MSD/CYF’s shortcomings; is setting up a Problem demanding a Solution.

That “Solution” is privatisation of services.

Which perhaps is what Tolley was referring to in her 24 September speech;

“While the new operational model is being developed, a feasibility study of an investment approach to improving outcomes for vulnerable children is being commissioned by MSD on behalf of the panel, and the findings will inform the Panel’s December report.”

Investment approach”?

As in business investment.

This explains  Tolley’s rejection of Lisa Owen’s suggestion of paying caregivers more money;

“Well, I think you’ve always got to be very careful that you’re not setting up a professional caregiving regime. And when you talk to people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money.”

Indeed, “people who are fostering, most of them don’t do it for the money” – but it sure helps pay the bills, especially for professional services for some very damaged children.

No wonder Tolley was vague on whether more money or social workers would be provided to MSD/CYF, in her replies to Lisa Owen. This was never about increasing resources to the Ministry or caregivers.

This is about a private enterprise “solution” to a National government “problem”.

The Rebstock Report is simply the means to sell that “solution” to the public and media.

Machiavellian does not begin to cover this mad agenda.

 

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References

TV3: The Nation – Interview – National’s Chief Strategist Steven Joyce

Beehive.govt.nz: Speech to Fostering Kids New Zealand Conference

Fairfax media: Job cuts for MSD

NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing

Scoop media: Combating poverty more important than measuring it

Radio NZ: MSD restructure ‘lacks transparency’

Fairfax media: 98 MSD staff face the axe – union

Twitter: Frank Macskasy to The Nation

Radio NZ: Key – More CYF private sector involvement possible

TV3 News: Tolley – Serco could run social services

TV3 News: CYF sites visited by Serco – Tolley

Beehive.govt.nz: Minister welcomes State of Care report

Additional

MSD: Redesigning the Welfare State in New Zealand: Problems, Policies and Prospects (1999)

Other Blog posts

The Daily Blog: Fixing CYFs – Paula Rebstock is asked to “rescue” another state agency

The Daily Blog: Why The State Needs To Support Young People Until They’re 21

Previous related blogposts

WINZ, waste, and wonky numbers – *up-date*

Bill English: When numbers don’t fit, or just jump around

The law as a plaything

Random Thoughts on Random Things #3

John Key’s government – death by two cuts

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

Government Minister sees history repeat – responsible for death

“I don’t know the details of that particular family” – Social Development Minister Anne Tolley

Polls and pundits – A facepalm moment

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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Phil-Disley-30102010-005

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 September 2015.

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Four Ways to Madness, Kiwi-style – a day in our media

22 September 2015 6 comments

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crazy-promises

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September 15 – A day in our history when four items of news were reported in our media, and few people seemed aware of  the new depths of craziness that our country has sunk to.

It was said that the old Soviet system was riddled with contradictions that, by 1991, led to it’s demise.

That charge could just as easily be levelled against the neo-liberal system, where the pursuit of the almighty dollar/euro/yen/etc has resulted in levels of crazy contradictions that are becoming more apparent with each passing day, and  increasingly difficult to sustain and justify by it’s proponents.

Those contradictions, I suspect, were part of the reason of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascension in the British Labour Party, and left-wing governments gaining ground in France, Greece, and elsewhere.

New Zealand has often been behind the times, so it may take a wee while longer for voters to fully comprehend that the neo-liberal system is a fraud, with only a few benefitting.

Four headlines. Four more examples of “free” market, corporate quackery. Four more nails in the neo-liberal coffin.

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Nail #1

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Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in - radio nz - Bright Foods - China - state owned enterprise

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The purchaser of Silver Fern is Shanghai Making Aquarius Group. Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group will be purchasing a 50% shareholding of Silver Fern, paying $261 million for the buy-in.

Shanghai Maling Aquarius Group is one of four subsidiaries of Bright Foods, a State Owned Enterprise, 100% owned by the Chinese government (though registered in the Cayman Islands – no doubt for tax-avoidance purposes). Bright Foods owns 39.12% (as of September 2015) of Synlait Milk Ltd, which it bought into five years ago.

At $261 million, the purchase price is still a small fraction of the estimated US$4 trillion it has “in foreign currency reserves, which it is determined to invest overseas to earn a profit and exert its influence“, according to a recent report in the New York Times.

As usual, our National-led government has turned a blind eye to yet another buy-up of one of New Zealand’s primary industry producers.

Yet, with a 50% holding, that almost guarantees that half of Silver Fern’s profits will end up going back to Bright Foods and the Chinese government.

Another report states that investors from China are set to invest US$10.9 billion in our real estate, according to said Andrew Taylor, Juwai.com’s co-chief executive;

“Juwai.com projects that the pilot program will enable US$11 billion of new Chinese money to flow into New Zealand’s real estate market. That’s based on wealthy Chinese investing 10 per cent of their assets into international property, including commercial. It’s also based on NZ getting about 3.3 per cent of that property-specific investment, as it has in the past.

The question is; why is it permissable for a  foreign State Owned Enterprise to buy up New Zealand companies – whilst our own government is busy shedding ownership of Genesis Energy, Meridian, Mighty River Power, Air New Zealand, land owned by Landcorp, and houses owned by Housing NZ?

Why does National think that State ownership by the NZ Government in our productive industries is undesirable – but State ownership by foreign nations is perfectly acceptable?

This appears to be a major flaw in  neo-liberal ideology and one that National has yet to confront head-on.

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Nail #2

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Radio NZ - Politicians fling flag barbs - flag referendum - john key - red peak - andrew little

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It has been fairly obvious that the flag referendum has been foisted upon New Zealand for two reasons,

  1. A distraction to deflect public and media attention away from the deepening economic downturn that has every indication of turning into another full-blown recession,
  2. A personal vanity-project for John Key, because eradicating child poverty; addressing the Auckland housing crisis; or making meaningful inroads into New Zealand’s worsening greenhouse gas emissions is not the kind of legacy our esteemed Dear Leader thinks is important enough to warrant his attention (he is a busy man).

On 14 September, John Key surprised many people by “reaching out” to the NZ Labour Party to assist National to include the so-called “red peak” flag in  the up-coming referendum. As Radio NZ reported Key’s comments;

“If I drop out one of them, if I drop out one particular flag, there will be a group that will say that was wrong because I was going to vote for that – there will be another group that will say ‘I just didn’t realise this was a process that could be influenced through social campaign’.

If you look at Labour, they’ve been very disingenuous throughout the whole process so if I’ve got to go back to Parliament and change the law to have five, are you really telling me they wouldn’t then run a campaign that said I’m wasting Parliament’s time because I’m now going back to it?

I mean, these people can play games forever.

Well, they would need to go back and change their position on the flag process, instead of lying to the public and saying they’re opposed to this when their policy is actually to change the flag.

If they want to treat the whole process with respect, they’re welcome to come and have a discussion with me, but that is not the way they’ve played this thing.

And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

There seemed an element of desperation in Key’s plaintive demand for Labour’s support on the issue.

Which is hardly surprising, as support for the “red peak” option had surpassed 50,000 in an on-line petition – a number equivalent to the 50,000 who marched through Auckland in May 2010, opposing National’s proposed mining in protected Schedule 4 DoC conservation land and marine reserves. The sheer number forced National to back down, and on 20 July 2010, then-Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee announced;

“At the time the discussion document was released, I made it clear that it was a discussion. There were no preconceived positions from the Government. We have no intention of mining national parks.”

The question though is, who is playing games here?

Andrew Little explained;

“The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

A brief explanation on what is an Order In Council;

Order in Council
A type of Legislative Instrument that is made by the Executive Council presided over by the Governor-General. Most Legislative Instruments are made by way of Order in Council. For more information about the Executive Council, see the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website. To find Orders in Council on this website, search or browse under Legislative Instruments.

Source: Parliament – Legislation – Glossary

Executive Council

The Executive Council is the highest formal instrument of government. It is the part of the executive branch of government that carries out formal acts of government.

By convention, the Executive Council comprises all Ministers of the Crown, whether those Ministers are inside or outside Cabinet. The Governor-General presides over, but is not a member of, the Executive Council. When a new Cabinet is sworn in, Ministers are first appointed as Executive Councillors and then receive warrants for their respective Ministerial portfolios.

The principal function of the Executive Council is to advise the Governor-General to make Orders in Council that are required to give effect to the Government’s decisions. Apart from Acts of parliament, Orders in Council are the main method by which the government implements decisions that need legal force. The Executive Council also meets from time to time to carry out formal acts of state.

Meetings

The Executive Council generally meets every Monday. At the meetings, the Executive Council gives formal advice to the Governor-General to sign Orders in Council (to make, for example, regulations or appointments). The meetings also provide an opportunity for Ministers to brief the Governor-General on significant political and constitutional issues that may have arisen during the week.

Source: Department of the Priome Minister and Cabinet – Executive

So apparently, unless I am missing something else, Andrew Little is 100% correct; “The Prime Minister can put Red Peak on the ballot paper without any party political support. He does it by Order in Council – he does not need other parties’ support for that.”

Which then begs the question; why is John Key trying to strong-arm Labour into supporting the addition of  the “red peak” option onto the ballot paper?

Answer: He is attempting to manufacture “cross party support” to extricate his government from a tricky situation. The flag referendum appears to be spiralling out of control with popular support growing for a flag design that is not simply a pathetic branding exercise (ie; silver fern) – but has become popular with a significant portion of the country.

If Key is to bow to popular pressure, he desperately needs Labour to come on-board, to neutralise a  guarenteed attack from the Opposition benches. As Key himself said on 15 September;

“And if Labour want to publicly come out and support the process and the change, that it’s an appropriate thing to do and argue that it’s an appropriate thing to do… then we might, but that hasn’t been what they’ve done so far.”

In effect, Key is employing precisely the same tactic Labour employed in 2007, where Helen Clark sought cross-party support to pass the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act (a.k.a the ‘Anti-Smacking Act’).

National’s parliamentary support, fronted by the then-Opposition Leader, John Key, gave a “seal of approval” from the Political Liberal-Right, to an otherwise contentious piece of legislation that was provoking howls of hysterical outrage from certain quarters.

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Key - Clarke- section 59 repeal

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Bringing Key on-board was risky for Labour, as it elevated Key to a near-equal position with then-Prime Minister, Helen Clark. But it was seen as necessary, to attempt to dilute the perception that this was “social engineering” inspired by Labour-Green “extremists”.

Eight years later, and this time John Key needs Labour to stifle a growing disenchantment with his personal vanity-project, which is threatening to take on a life of it’s own.

Key cannot afford to lose control of the flag debate. There is a reason that this is a binding referendum –  the framing of the debate; the four choices; and the sequence of questions (#1, which alternative flag do you want, followed by #2, pick one of two flags, an alternative or the current one) – are all under his personal control, via the Executive Council.

Andrew Little is correct, our esteemed Dear Leader could choose to add the “red peak” option by an Order in Council. Key does not require Labour’s assistance, either constitutionally or legally. But he doesn’t want to leave himself open to ridicule from Labour, and the perception that he has “lost control”.

When John Key stated on 15 September;

“I’m more than happy to meet with him but only on the condition it’s not about a yes or no vote. A yes or no vote doesn’t work. It doesn’t deliver what New Zealanders want.”

–  he was not talking about “what New Zealanders want”.

He was talking about what he, John Key, wants. And he needs Labour to do it.

The question is: why should Labour help Key?

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Nail #3

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This next bit comes courtesy from Paula Bennett, currently  Minister for Social Housing.

Radio NZ reported on 15 September,

A government think tank has released its final report on the country’s social services and is urging major reform.

But the Productivity Commission is unable to offer specific solutions as to how the government should deal with the group that is most difficult to look after.

Every year, the country spends $34 billion on social services, more than 10 percent of the GDP.

Read today’s final report into social services by the Productivity Commission (PDF, 4.3MB)

The commission recommends a move away from the current top-down approach, with more responsibility given to providers.

But it could not decide how to deal with the people with the most complex needs, instead suggesting that the government look at two possible solutions.

One option would be a standalone agency which oversees a client’s case across a number of agencies.

The second would be to fund District Health Boards (DHBs) to be responsible for the country’s most disadvantaged people.

It also recommends establishing a Ministerial Committee of Social Services, rather than an Office of Social Services, which had been recommended in its draft report. The ministerial committee would be responsible for reform of the sector.

The commission has defined social services as those including health care, social care, education and training, employment services and community services.

It has looked at agencies and services including Housing New Zealand, Work and Income, Whanau Ora, services for people with disabilities, and home care for the elderly.

Interviewed on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint, Paula Bennett was quick to reassure listeners that National was not penny-pinching at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society;

@ 2.47

“But we’ve never thought that money was the problem as such. If it needs more money, we will.”

The usual lie from a National Minister, considering the severe funding cutbacks to community organisations such as Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, community health organisations, Relationship Aotearoa, and many others.

But the following words to gush from her mouth simply beggared belief;

“What we’ve been really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that we’re targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them.”

“Data analytics”?!

Bennett was adamant that  National has been  “really big on is the data analytics, that makes sure that”  they are  “targetting the right services to the right kids and more importantly getting actual results for them

Let’s take a moment to step back in time.

Specifically, set temporal co-ordinates of your Toyota Tardis to 16 August 2012. This NZ Herald story, from that year, tells the story;

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Measuring poverty line not a priority - Bennett

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The question here is; How can Bennett “target the right services to the right kids and more importantly get actual results for them” – when three years ago she stated categorically that finding the “data analytics” was not a priority?

What “data analytics” is she talking about?

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Nail #4

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The fiasco surrounding  the private company running Mt Eden and Wiri prisons got more bizarre on 15 September when it was revealed that  Serco had been let off $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

Fines for breaching the contract between Serco and the Crown are one of the few sanctions that the government can levy on the company for not upholding contractual obligations.

A 15 September report from Radio NZ revealed;

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Serco let off $270k in fines - Minister

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The story then explained why  the heading – “$270k in fines’ – was an under-estimation;

Under questioning from Green Party corrections spokesperson David Clendon this afternoon, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-liga spelt out the sum of Serco’s cancelled fines.

“Mr Speaker, since Serco took over management of Mt Eden Prison in 2011, I’m advised that Corrections has issued a total of 55 performance notices to Serco – seven have been withdrawn,” Mr Lotu-liga said.

“And the total amount of the withdrawals is $275,000.”

But it seems there are more fines that Serco has had cancelled and Mr Clendon asked the minister about one of them.

“Does the minister approve of Corrections’ decision to excuse the $100,000 fine that was imposed when Serco failed to take back razors that had been issued to prisoners, to inmates, if so why?” Mr Clendon asked.

Mr Lotu-liga responded that that was not one of the seven withdrawn fines he was referring too.

The chronically inept and terminally-tragic Corrections Minister, Sam Lotu-liga, was either unaware of the $100,000 fine – or was wilfully engaged in a cover-up.

However, whether the actual figure of $275,000 or $375,000 is actually irrelevant.

What is truly astounding is that someone within either the Minister’s office or the Corrections Dept had made the decision to scrub $375,000 in fines for serious contract breaches.

The obvious questions which beg to be asked and answered are;

  1. Who made the decision to dismiss $375,000 in fines issued to Serco?
  2. Why was the decision made to dismiss the fines?
  3. Does the same principle  of waiving fines extend to every citizen in New Zealand who has exceeded the speed limit; parked illegally; or committed  some other offence which resulted in a monetary penalty?
  4. What the hell is going on?!

The next time our esteemed Dear Leader or some other National minister utter the phrase, “One law for all” – they should be immediatly reminded that obviously “One Law for All” does not extend to companies like Serco.

15 September – one hell of a day for National. It got about as crazy as crazy can be in this country.

Or is there more to come?

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References

Radio NZ: Silver Fern chair sees no problem with Chinese buy-in

Wikipedia: Bright Foods

NZ Companies Office: Synlait Milk Limited

China Daily: China’s Bright Dairy invests in NZ’s Synlait

NY Times: China’s Global Ambitions, With Loans and Strings Attached

NZ Herald: Chinese investment set to boom

Radio NZ: Red Peak – Politicians fling flag barbs

Ministry for the Environment:  New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990-2013

Radio NZ: A flutter of hope for Red Peak?

NZ Herald: Red Peak – 50,000 strong petition handed over at Parliament

Fairfax media: Thousands march against mining

TV3: Govt confirms no mining Schedule 4, national parks

Te Ara – The NZ Enclyclopedia: Cross-party negotiation on legislation

Radio NZ: Major social service changes recommended

Radio NZ: Checkpoint – Government willing to spend more on social services (alt. link)

Dominion Post: Women’s Refuge cuts may lead to waiting lists

NZ Herald: Govt funding cuts reduce rape crisis support hours

NZ Doctor: Christchurch’s 198 Youth Health Centre to close its doors as management fails to implement directives from CDHB

Scoop media: Relationships Aotearoa – our story

NZ Herald: Measuring poverty line not a priority – Bennett

Radio NZ: Serco let off $270k in fines – Minister

Radio NZ: Serco let off $375k in fines (alt. link)

Previous related blogposts

Kiwis, Cows, and Canadian singers

That was Then, this is Now #10

Doing ‘the business’ with John Key – Here’s How (Part # Rua)

Three Questions to Key, Williamson, Coleman, et al

Taiwan FTA – Confirmation by TVNZ of China pressuring the Beehive?

Why Labour should NEVER play the “race card”

Letter to the editor: An idea regarding a new(ish) flag

The Flag Referendum – A strategy for Calm Resistance

Flying the flags of discontent – MOBILISE!

It’s a Man’s World, I guess

The cupboard is bare, says Dear Leader

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

So what is the rationale for private prisons?

Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 Septembr 2015.

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Letter to the editor – Key suggests private providers for children in CYF services?!

4 September 2015 Leave a comment

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Sunday Star Times <letters@star-times.co.nz>
date: Mon, Aug 31, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Sunday Star Times

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On 31 August, on Radio NZ’s ‘Morning Report’, our esteemed Prime Minister gave his strongest hint yet that parts of Child, Youth and Family could be contracted out to private providers. Key said,

“Child Youth and Family does outsource to the private sector already some contracts, and I think last year $81 million of business went to private sector contractors, so I can’t get up and say there is no involvement with the private sector, because there already is that. I don’t think we’re seriously talking about the private sector taking control of all the children, but if there is some small function they could do, maybe, I’d have to see what that is.”

The involvement of the private sector in government services, often resulting in poor outcomes and shockingly high cost over-runs, can be traced back as far as the mid 1980s with the failed INCIS police computer project contracted to IBM. Serco/Mt Eden, Talent 2/Novopay, and failed charter school Te Pumanawa o te Wairua are just some of the latest examples – that we know of.

John Key must be suffering another of his brain fades, if he has forgotten the Serco and Talent2 debacles already.

With regards to Child, Youth and Family, and the critical problems they have been facing, it defies understanding that our prime minister would contemplate, even for a micro-second, handing over aspects of support for our most vulnerable children to profit-driven corporations. If this is where New Zealand is heading, then as a nation we have truly lost the plot.

What possible benefit could a company like Serco have to offer children in State-care? Organising fight-clubs for 12 year olds?

The only solution is for the National government to cease under-funding critical social services such as Child, Youth and Family and ensure they are properly resourced; staffed; and work closely with other State agencies to achieve common goals.

Contracting out to private providers is not an answer. It is a cop-out. With vulnerable and damaged children paying the price of this lunatic idea.

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-Frank Macskasy

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[address & phone number supplied]

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References

Radio NZ: Key – More CYF private sector involvement possible

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2901_Novopay_23Mar13_zps27f71098

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Questions over Serco’s “independent” monitors and it’s Contract with the Crown

4 August 2015 4 comments

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Questions have arisen regarding the  supposed “safe-guards” Monitors at Mt Eden Prison, and at least one aspect of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract.

According to section 21.2 of the contract between Corrections and Serco, between two to three Monitors were tasked with;

(a) compliance with this agreement;

(b) the accuracy of the Contractor’s invoices or reports relating to the Services;

(c) processes and procedures of the Contractor or any subcontractor relevant to the provision of the Services;

(d) anything else relating to the Services.

Also according to the contract, the monitors were ostensibly appointed by Corrections, though whether they are paid by Corrections or Serco depended on “… if the Service Audit reveals that the Contractor has breached this agreement” (p21.3), in which case “then the Contractor must pay the Crown’s costs in relation to the Service Audit“.

However, on 2 May, TV3’s ‘The Nation’ interview between Lisa Owen and Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga had this interesting exchange;

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Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga on The Nation

Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga on TV3’s ‘The Nation‘, 2 May 2015

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Owen: Okay, well, who’s monitoring their performance? Who makes sure that they reach their targets and that they’re assessing themselves fairly?

Lotu-Iiga: Okay, they are actually more scrutinised than any public prison. They’ve got two monitors— there will be two prison monitors in each of the prisons.

Owen: Who employs those monitors? Who employs the monitor in the prison?

Lotu-Iiga: There will be— If I can just finish, there will be an ombudsman. They will be subject to complaints—

Owen: So the monitor in the prison, Minister, just to be clear, the monitor in the prison; who employs the monitor?

Lotu-Iiga: My understand is that the monitors are based in the prisons, but they report to the Department of Corrections.

Owen: Who employs the monitor and pays their wages, Minister?

Lotu-Iiga: Well, I don’t have those facts on me, but they do report—

Owen: Well, I do. The person who employs the monitor— the person who employs the monitor is the company, Serco. They employ the monitor, and pay their wages.

Lotu-Iiga: Okay, can I just finish—

Owen: So how is that an independent analysis?

Lotu-Iiga: Well, they’re reporting to the Department of Corrections. We have the ombudsman as well. We have the chief inspectorate, if I can say, the chief inspectorate is based in the Department of Corrections. They will be also subject to the scrutiny and the questioning and the examination through the chief inspectorate. That is no different, can I say, to any other prison.

Owen: But you’ve just told me that they’re going to have a higher level of assessment monitoring—

Lotu-Iiga: Well, they do.

Owen: —by saying that they’ve got this person in the prison. But they’re actually employed by the people who run the prison.

Lotu-Iiga: They’re employed by Serco, but they are reporting back to, as I’ve just said, someone in the Department of Corrections. So they’ve got not only two monitors, they’ve got the ombudsman, they’ve got the chief inspectorate and also the office of the Auditor General. That’s no different to any other prison in this country.

Whoever employs (employed?) the Monitors at Mt Eden, they do not appear to have forwarded Incident Reports of violence and other criminal activity taking place at the facility. The prompt forwarding of Incident Reports is also a prime feature of the contract between Serco and Corrections;

22.2 Incident reporting requirements:
If an Incident occurs, the Contractor must report the Incident in accordance with the requirements set out in Schedule 5.

[…]

Schedule 5
Appendix 1
Timecode1

Immediate notification to “Incident Line” (04) 473 1745 anytime day or night, followed by IOMS incident report (or in the event of IOMS being unavailable an E.08.01.F1 Notification of  incident form (which is contained in the Department PPM)) within 2 hours of the incident being advised.

The prevalence of violence (including alleged  “dropping”); “fightclubs”;  injuries; at least one death; drug use; home-brew production*; contraband such as cell-phones; and now three prisoners arrested for involvement in gang-related drug activities – does not seem to have impacted on Mt Eden’s high ranking on Corrections’ Prison Performance Table – the most recent being for twelve months ending March this year;

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Mt Eden prison - prison performance table - corrections department - serco

(Hat-tip: Martyn Bradbury, for above chart)

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Since April 2014, Mt Eden has rated “Exceptional” in previous performance grades. It’s rehabilitation rates at 96.75% – which in itself is odd, as Mt Eden is also a Remand Prison, and 676 out of 952 prisoners (as at 31 December 2014) are on remand; awaiting trial;  and have not been convicted of any crime.

It is fairly obvious that as more and more stories of violence and other criminal activity emerge, Serco’s statistics cannot be taken at face value.  As the Herald’s David Fisher reported on 27 July;

Serco had previously been rated at the highest levels of safety despite the allegations of violence inside Mt Eden prison. It was contracted to carry out its own performance management reviews – and was also responsible for telling the Department of Corrections when its pay should be docked.

One means by which assault figures could be ‘fudged’ by Serco was illustrated by Fisher in the same report;

Over the past week, cases have emerged of prisoners being transported from the Serco prison to other institutions arriving with serious injuries.

The Weekend Herald reported a case in March this year in which a prisoner sent to Manawatu prison was found to be needing urgent hospital care when he arrived.

There are  six questions that beg to be answered by the various inquiries currently under way;

1.

Why did the Monitors at Mt Eden not report incidences of violence – including one death – as well as other criminal activity? Monitors were tasked with reporting untoward events such as assaults to the Corrections Department. Why was this not done so?

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Considering the assaults, drug taking, and other other instances of illegal activity taking place at Mt Eden, how could that facility gain a high “Exceptional” rating on the Prison Performance Table? Do Corrections Dept officials, and the Corrections Minister have faith in the accuracy of Prison Performance data? And why did the Monitors not challenge those high rankings?

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Why did the Monitors not report that injured prisoners were being transferred out from Mt Eden to other correctional facilities? Why did they not advise the Chief Executive of Corrections (Ray Smith) that by transferring out injured prisoners, that this would inevitably result in favourable statistics for Mt Eden.

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Who were the Monitors directly responsible to; Serco or Corrections?

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Was there a deliberate, organised policy of silence, between Serco, Corrections Dept, and Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga’s office, to suppress reports of violence and other criminal activity at Mt Eden, because otherwise disclosure of the truth would damage the credibility of this government to pursue it’s agenda for further privatisation of services?

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There is provision in the contract between Serco and Corrections for a good faith relationship between the parties;

SCHEDULE 1
WORKING TOGETHER

2.1
In recognising the significance of the relationship between the Crown and the Contractor from an operational and contractual perspective, the parties agree to work cooperatively and collaboratively.

The parties will:

(a) ensure that their communications are open and honest;
(b) proactively raise, and respond to, issues with a view to prompt and efficient resolution;
(c) take a constructive and open minded approach to points of difference; and
(d) treat each other with respect at all times.

The degree to which Serco has with-held information from it’s partner – the Crown – should be seen by many as being far from “open and honest“; has failed to “proactively raise, and respond to, issues“; and certainly not treated the Crown “with respect at all times”.

So why is Schedule 1 not grounds to break the contract with Serco?

Not only has Serco apparently circumvented the spirit, as well as the intent, on their contract with Corrections, but it has apparently connived to suppress information, as Kim Vinnell reported for TV3 on 24 July;

There are fresh revelations private prison operator Serco went out of its way to make sure its squeaky clean record stayed that way.

In Mt Eden prison where inmates are king, are guards who say they’re understaffed and afraid.

“It’s about time we all spoke out and say what it’s actually like,” says one guard, who spoke to 3 News on the condition of anonymity.

He says when prisoners or guards break the rules, management would rather official reports tell a different story.

“You’re told to state the facts, but to leave all other things out of it.

“They go missing off the system several times, or they get edited and you’re not told that they’re edited.”

The Government says it didn’t know what was going on, despite the fact three prison monitors – who are Corrections employees – have been there since Serco’s first day.

Under the Corrections Act, prison monitors must report to the chief executive at least every four months. The sole purpose of their job is to report on prison management and any concerns they may have about the prison’s running.

The government claims “it didn’t know what was going on“.

In which case, not only was the Correction Minister’s office kept in the dark – but also the entire Corrections Department. Is this feasible?

It is inconceivable that National Ministers did not know the depth of problems afflicting Mt Eden and Serco.

In which case, this government was actively complicit in a cover-up, to protect it’s credibility with voters – and to  safeguard it’s privatisation agenda.

This scandal may yet engulf the government and bring it down, forcing an early election.

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* Note: Home-brew involves fermentation to produce alcohol. The process creates carbon dioxide and strong odours. How is it that staff at Mt Eden could not smell fermentation processes within the facility?

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Addendum1

Email to Corrections Minister, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, on 28 July;

Kia ora Minister  Lotu-Iiga,

I am querying the appointment on Monitors for Mt Eden Prison, which up till yesterday (27 July), was managed by Serco.

Can you please advise  regarding the following;

1. Who employs the Monitors? Is it Serco or the Corrections Department?

2. Who do they report to; Serco or the Corrections Department?

3. Who pays their salaries; Serco or the Corrections Department?

4. Are the Monitors responsible for providing information to Corrections, which forms the Prison Performance Table? If not, who provides that information?

5. Are the Monitors still employed at Mt Eden? If not, why not?

6. Have the monitors made any Incident Reports to Corrections, as required Prison under the Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility (para 22.2). If so, what Incidents were reported and when?

Please respond asap to this OIA request, as this is a matter of some urgency.

A response from  Minister  Lotu-Iiga’s Private Secretary acknowledged  my email on the 29th, advising;

As the information you have requested is held by the Department of Corrections, I have transferred your request to the Department. This decision is in accordance with section 14 of the Official Information Act 1982.

The Department is required to provide you with a response within 20 working days of receipt of my transfer letter.

It is likely that Corrections Dept will use a provision within the Official Information Act to request an extension to the 20 Working Day time-limit.

Addendum2

Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, stipulates;

Official Information Act (OIA) requests

These can often be requested by journalists wishing to probe deeper into issues they believe the public may be interested in. Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a response.

OIA requests, by law, must be facilitated as soon as possible. The “20 Working Days” option is a maximum – not a target response time to work to.

Part 2, Section 15 of the Act clearly and explicitly states that responses to OIA requests “shall, as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received” be “given or posted to the person who made the request notice of the decision on the request“.

It is unclear how the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract complies with requirements contained within the Official Information Act to provide responses “ as soon as reasonably practicable“.

Addendum3

Considering that the Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, appears to contravene the spirit, intent,  and letter of the Official Information Act (Part 2, Section 15), I wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman to seek their advice;

Kia ora,

I understand that your Office has been looking into a possible actions by various government Ministers to willfully and deliberately delay replying to OIA requests. Part 2, Section 15 of the Official Information Act states that responses to OIA requests;

“…shall, as soon as reasonably practicable, and in any case not later than 20 working days after the day on which the request is received” be “given or posted to the person who made the request notice of the decision on the request“.

I have recently been looking into the Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility   that applies between the Corrections Dept (acting on behalf of The Crown) and a private company, Serco.

Schedule 11 (Information Requests) of the Serco-Corrections Dept Contract, stipulates;

Official Information Act (OIA) requests

These can often be requested by journalists wishing to probe deeper into issues they believe the public may be interested in. Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a response.

It is my contention that the Contract’s reference to “Requests under the OIA are managed within the statutory timeframes described in the legislation – this is generally 20 Working Days for a responseis counter  to the spirit, intent, and letter of the Official Information Act.
The Act clearly states that OIA requests should be actioned “as soon as reasonably practicable” and that “20 working days” is a maximum time limit, not a target time-frame to work toward.
In your view, is the Contract accurately reflecting the Official Information  Act?
If not, how does that impact on the legality of the Contract itself?
I would welcome your advice on this matter.
This blogger will keep readers advised on further developments.

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References

Corrections Dept: Prison Management Contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility

Scoop  media:  The Nation – Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga

NZ Herald: Head Hunters raids – Police investigating former Mt Eden prison guard

Corrections Dept: Prison Performance Table

NZ Herald: Serco docked $565k over violence in prisons

Corrections Dept:  Prison facts and statistics – December 2014

TV3: Mt Eden prison guards ‘understaffed, afraid’

Legislation.govt.nz: Official Information Act 1982

Previous related blogposts

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

Letter to the editor – If Serco was the answer, what was the question?

On private prisons

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corrections - serco - private prisons

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 July 2015.

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So what is the rationale for private prisons?

1 August 2015 3 comments

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Justice not for sale logo

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On 14 December, 2010, there was great excitement and jubilation  in the Beehive when then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins announced;

This Government is committed to a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise.

The appointment of Serco as the contract manager for Mt Eden/ACRP will bring in new ideas and international best practice which will benefit the entire corrections sector.

Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons. I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.”

(Acknowledgement: TV3 The Nation and  )

The rational for the gradual privatisation of our prisons – traditionally the responsibility of the State – was to provide “ a world-class Corrections system in New Zealand“; to “bring in new ideas and international best practice“, and implement “high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security“.

According to National/ACT ideology, Private is better.

On 21 July, nearly five years after Collins’ gushing endorsement of Serco, Labour’s Kelvin Davis revealed to the country a series of events at Mt Eden – nominally under the “control” of Serco;

Speaking first in the heated debate, Mr Davis claims that Mt Eden prisoners with severe injuries had been transferred to public prisons so that the cases did not show up in Serco’s assault statistics.

He told a story of a prisoner named only as Evans who arrived at Ngawha prison in Northland with a punctured lung.

“He was in such bad shape that almost immediately the guards at Ngawha transferred him to Whangarei Hospital where he subsequently passed away,” Mr Davis said.

Since then, we have seen video-clips on social media showing fight-clubs and drug-taking, as well as  stories of extortion, “dropping”, rape, etc, etc. Mt Eden prison is so badly run that the Corrections Dept will take control of the facility today (27 July).

Not since the collapse of Air New Zealand, and hasty re-nationalisation by the Clark-led Labour government in October 2001, has the State had to step in to salvage an organisation from mis-management and chaos.

Since then, our esteemed Prime Minister has made several statements, attempting to minimise the violence and drug-taking at Mt Eden;

And so the point will be, I think what it will show is on reported instances , that SERCO ‘s about consistant with the others [prisons]… as far as sexual assaults and violent assaults, I think you’ll see Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons.” – TVNZ Q+A, @ 2.50

 

Mr Key defended National’s prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails. – NZ Herald

Now here’s the salient point which our esteemed Prime Minister, Judith Collins, Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga, and other National MPs and Ministers might care to ponder:

1. If, as Key, et al, assert, that “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons” – then what is the point of privatisation of prison services if private providers are no different to State administration?

2. Why are we, the tax-payer, paying huge profits to a company like Serco, if “violence was not limited to private jails” and “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons“? What, exactly, are we paying for?

3. If Private Prividers are no better than the State at running correctional facilities – why not cut out the “middle man” (Serco), and simply invest the profit that would have gone to the corporation, for more drug rehabilitation; literacy courses; skills training; and comprehensive re-integration into society?

Because if there is no difference to the Private or State management of our prisons, then giving hundreds of millions of tax-dollars to Serco makes no sense.

None whatsoever.

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Addendum1

One of the claims that had been made, I think, was that someone had been thrown off a balcony – in fact, actually, Serco say that the person jumped off the balcony, or tripped, or fell.” – John Key, 23 July 2015

Really, Mr Key?

So the prisoner picked himself up and threw himself over the balcony, for no apparent reason? Or “tripped”? Or “fell”?

I am reminded of the tragic fate of many anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, during the apartheid years;

More than 100 other people suspected of anti-apartheid activities died in security police custody in South Africa and tribal homelands. In some cases, authorities said the suspects died of natural causes, however implausible. A larger number were reported to have hanged themselves. Others “fell down stairs” and died. Or fell out of windows and died. Or were “injured in scuffles.” Or “fell in shower.” Except for Dr. Neil Aggett, a 29-year-old physician who became a trade union official, all the dead detainees were black.

What say you now, Mr Key?

Addendum2

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References

Beehive.govt.nz: Mt Eden/ACRP contract manager announced

NZ Herald:MP: ‘Ill’ prisoner died after ‘dropping’

National Business Review: Corrections snatches Mt Eden Prison back from Serco

World Socialist Website: Another airline crisis—the case of Air New Zealand

TVNZ Q+A: TPP and National Party’s future – PM

NZ Herald: Serco hauled before minister

Fairfax media: Corrections Minister looking at options for Serco-run prisons after allegations of ill-treatment

Baltimore Sun: Biko and the goons of state security Power – The reopened case of Steve Biko

Previous related blogposts

The closure of three prisons and loss of 262 jobs – five issues for the National govt

“The Nation” reveals gobsmacking incompetence by Ministers English and Lotu-Iiga

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This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 27 July 2015.

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Letter to the editor – If Serco was the answer, what was the question?

28 July 2015 3 comments

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Frank Macskasy - letters to the editor - Frankly Speaking

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from: Frank Macskasy <fmacskasy@gmail.com>
to: Dominion Post <letters@dompost.co.nz>
date: Sun, Jul 26, 2015
subject: Letter to the editor

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The editor
Dominion Post

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Our esteemed prime minister, John Key, recently made statements minimising Serco’s mis-management of Mt Eden Prison.

On 26 July, on TV1’s Q+A, Key said,

“And so the point will be, I think what it will show is on reported instances , that SERCO ‘s about consistant with the others [prisons]… as far as sexual assaults and violent assaults, I think you’ll see Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons.”


And in the NZ Herald, on 23 July, Key was reported;

Mr Key defended National’s prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails.


If, as Mr Key maintains, there is no appreciable difference between privately managed or State-run prisons – then what is the point of contracting Serco to run Mt Eden and Wiri Prisons?

Why are we taxpayers paying out hundreds of millions of dollars of our money to a private company, when, as John Key tells us, “Mt Eden’s pretty similar to the other prisons”?

What is the point in  paying this company to do a job no better or worse than our own Corrections Dept?

In fact, there seems to be no point.

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-Frank Macskasy

 

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[address and phone number supplied]

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