For decades it was rumours that the department of Work and Income New Zealand were underpaying clients on a systemic basis. Just rumours to most people. But they were persistent rumours. It was like looking for smoke with no obvious source – a lot of it about and stubbornly refusing to disperse. There had to be something burning somewhere, and there was. But where? And why could no one find it, never mind put it out?
But now, thanks to a leak on Friday, the rumours have become something much more serious.
In my estimate the entire Work and Income senior management need to be sacked. If an organization has lied for the decades it is alleged that Work and Income have done so, then most probably the senior management are not only aware of it, they are also complicit in enabling this.
I also believe that there should be a class action taken against them. I do not know how many clients of theirs were underpaid or not paid at all, who have eligible claims, but it could be in the tens of thousands of potential claimants and some of them might be eligible for thousands of dollars in compensation.
I would not want to be the Chief Executive of W.I.N.Z. right now. This would be a potentially public servant career ending blow to suffer. I would not be waiting for the Minister to ring and tell me my game is up. If this happened under watch, I’d be clearing my desk immediately. This kind of systemic failure is simply not acceptable under any Minister’s watch.
I know little about Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni. For all I know she might be a brilliant Minister whose time has come and she intends to make the most of it. Or she might be spectacularly inept, like fellow Minister, Phil Twyford. Whatever the case, she need to stamp her authority on W.I.N.Z. and any other umbrella agency of the Ministry of Social Destruction, that might be behaving like W.I.N.Z. has behind her back.
A bold Minister would not have waited for something like this to happen. There is no shortage of evidence to indicate that problems have existed at W.I.N.Z. for some time, both from the tempestuous relationship between client and servant that anyone who has been to an appointment with this agency, and from some of the more overt problems that have surfaced in the media from time to time.
A bold Minister would be overhauling the legislative framework that governs the M.S.D., W.I.N.Z. Studylink, Child Youth and Family Services (C.Y.F.S.). They would be looking at why such a toxic and dangerous culture has been allowed to form and the aggravating factors possible; the interactions between the agencies. To enable the necessary changes, they would then be bringing legislation before Parliament that takes on board all of these issues and the numerous other ones lurking just beneath the surface.
And if the Minister refuses to ACT on the feedback, she should consider whether she is fit to hold the Ministerial Warrant for Minister of Social Development. Because at the time of scheduling this to publish, there was a warning of potential legal action hanging over W.I.N.Z.
Watch this space.