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    Essential Information on an Essential Issue

    Letter No.114

    21 December 1999

    The Jobs Letter talks to Steve Maharey, Minister of Social Services and Development

    The heat is being turned up on Winz, which faces an inquiry into the government department early into the new year. As this issue of The Jobs Letter goes to press, Social Services Minister Steve Maharey and his Associates Parekura Horomia, Tariana Turia and Ruth Dyson were meeting Winz boss Christine Rankin and her key advisers to spell out a new direction for Winz and discuss terms for the planned inquiry.

    In a special interview in this issue The Jobs Letter, Maharey makes clear that he does not have confidence in Ms Rankin and expects his government to be able to work its way towards gaining confidence in her and her department.

  • Last week, The Dominion revealed that Winz had employed consultants to help it prepare briefing papers for the incoming government. This angered PM Helen Clark who was concerned at "the fundamental lack of capacity" at Winz.

    Ms Rankin told The Dominion that Winz had employed consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers to help in the preparation of ministerial briefing papers. The consultants had performed a "co-ordinating and quality assurance role which included proof-reading". Rankin would not reveal the cost of this exercise, saying that this information was "commercially sensitive" to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

    Helen Clark: "You think of the branding advertisements Winz ran, which are completely unnecessary, but then it doesn't have the capacity to write a briefing paper. I'm simply amazed. One is tempted to suggest that if Winz spent as much on core analysis as they do on public relations, the public interest might be better served..."

  • Clark says that the government will look to rebuilding the capacity of core government agencies in the medium term ... so they would be able to provide advice without the assistance of consultants. She indicates that this will probably require building up staff in strategic areas. She says that many people who used to work in the public service have set themselves up as consultants and were often contracted in to do the same job.

    The figures: Between 1990, when National was elected, and the end of 1997, the number of full-time state servants fell from 55,000 to just over 31,000 people.

  • Green Party co-leader Rod Donald continues to call for Ms Rankin's head to roll, saying that the recent use of consultants is just another example of extravagance and mis-management at Winz. Donald: "Rankin simply must go. There's such a long list of failures ... I don't see how she could stay."
    Source The Jobs Letter interview with Steve Maharey, in this issue; The Dominion 20 December 1999 "Minister has no confidence in Rankin" by Mathew Brockett; The Daily News 20 December 1999 "Rankin to get further government grilling"
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    The Privacy Commissioner, Bruce Slane, has questioned the Winz benefit fraud recovery programme, saying that figures suggest that the cost of the programme was greater than the amount being recovered, and he questions whether it was all as a result of "fraud".

    Figures supplied to Slane by Winz in relation to its data matching programme, which allows government agencies to share information, show that it cost Winz $9.4m to recover $8.9m worth of overpayments and penalties.

    Slane also questions the suggestion by Winz that all the money it was trying to recover is as a result of fraud, saying that some of it related to overpayments that hadn't been returned yet. Slane: "One wonders what is achieved by stigmatising beneficiaries as criminals in these circumstances, and whether it does not have a reverse effect."

  • As part of its data-matching programme, Winz shares information on beneficiaries with Corrections, Customs, Inland Revenue and ACC. Slane believes that estimates of the debt actually recovered in previous years was highly debatable, "to say the least...".

    Slane: "The information matching programmes conducted by Winz have all been justified by promises of making enormous monetary savings by cutting back on what the department now routinely calls benefit fraud or benefit crime and recovering overpayments ..."

    Meanwhile, the credibility of Winz has been further shaken by the number of beneficiaries successfully challenging decisions on benefit entitlements. Winz has been proved wrong on more than three out of five cases examined by its own benefit review committees last year.

    The number of complaints taken against the department has increased from 1,923 in 1997-98 to 2,050 last financial year. Yet the number of cases where the department has proved right has dropped from 854 to 813.

  • A benefit review committee hearing looks at any new information relating to a case, ensures that legislation is applied correctly and that any discretion allowed has been exercised appropriately and according to the facts of the case.

    Winz spokesperson Kate Joblin says she understands the majority of the decisions against the department were changed by the review committee because it was often presented with more information than frontline staff.

  • Wellington Downtown Ministry director Kevin Hackwell is concerned that many more beneficiaries are not getting their full entitlements, but did not have the confidence, resources or time to seek reviews or appeals.

    Hackwell: "It's about an attitude that some Winz staff and certainly senior management appear to have that they should minimise how much is paid out... A lot of the people go to the department for emergency help. They get turned down and by the time they apply for a review its too late.

    "One of the problems is the department is minimising its paperwork, so fewer people are being told in writing about the decision being made and their review rights. People are encouraged to ask about their entitlements over the phone."

    Sources The Daily News 4 December 1999 "Slane questions merits of Winz fraud recovery"; The Dominion 15 December 1999 "Winz staff getting it wrong" by Karen Howard

    The National Party has announced its revamped opposition line-up. Roger Sowry (at No.4) has dropped the Social Services portfolio ... which now goes to Bob Simcock (No.13) who will be National spokesman on Social Services, Employment, Community and Voluntary Sector.

    Belinda Vernon will be National spokesperson on Work and Income NZ.

    Source The Evening Post 16 December 1999 "National Shadow Portfolios at a glance" by NZPA

  • Seasons Greetings to all our readers from all of us at The Jobs Letter and The Jobs Research Trust. All the best for 2000!

    (in cabinet)
    No.2 JIM ANDERTON (Alliance) Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Economic Development, Minister for Industry and Regional Development

    No.4 STEVE MAHAREY (Labour) Minister of Social Services and Employment, Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education), Minister responsible for the community and voluntary sector

    No.7 SANDRA LEE (Alliance) Associate Minister of Maori Affairs, Minister of Local Government

    No.9 TREVOR MALLARD (Labour) Minister of Education, Minister of State Services, Minister responsible for adult and community education

    No.10 PETE HODGSON (Labour) Associate Minister for Economic Development, Associate Minister for Industry and Regional Development, Minister responsible for small businesses

    No.11 MARGARET WILSON (Labour) Minister of Labour

    No.12 DOVER SAMUELS (Labour) Minister of Maori Affairs

    No.14 LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour) Associate Minister of Education

    No.19 MARK GOSCHE (Labour) Minister of Housing

    No.20 LAILA HARRE (Alliance) Minister of Women's Affairs, Minister of Youth Affairs, Associate Minister of Labour

    (outside cabinet)
    No.22 RUTH DYSON (Labour) Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment, Minister responsible for disability issues

    No.23 TARIANA TURIA (Labour) Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment (Social Services), Associate Minister of Maori Affairs (Social Development), Associate Minister of Housing

    No.24 PHILLIDA BUNKLE (Alliance) Associate Minister for Economic Development

    No.25 PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour) Associate Minister of Social Services and Employment (Employment), Associate Minister of Maori Affairs (Economic Development), Associate Minister of Education


    JOHN WRIGHT (Alliance) Undersecretary to the Minister of Economic Development, Industry and Regional Development.

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