Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sickness in the Rock Star Economy: Sewage and Hole under that Rock?


Thakur Ranjit Singh

Despite what you may think of Uncle Winnie (Winston Peters), he helped pull out the country from that deep dark hole, that chasm Steven Joyce created. Had he chosen National, the country would have gone deeper in that hole, buried under the rocks of a rock star economy, where books would have looked good, but wellbeing of common people gone to dogs.

And thanks to Winston teaming up with Labour, we were gifted with a bold Minister, Shane Jones who ruffled quite a few corporate Boards feathers. But that story to a later day.

Now, we look at mouldy walls, leaking sewer pipes, insecure power supply, asbestos, ineffective (dysfunctional?) District Health Boards (DHBs) – and a sick health system.

Two formers: Former National's Health Minister Jonathan Coleman with Former Prime Minister, Sir John Key. Both of them abandoned ship. Sir John escaped in time to score a Knighthood from the Queen who he wanted removed from NZ flag in his failed flag-change bid. Coleman cannot escape the concept of Ministerial responsibility on the extent of mismanagement now revealed in the health sector under his rule.

Eureka! (Hurray, Wailei, Jai Ho) Lizzie Marvelly writing an opinion piece in Weekend NZ Herald (07.04.18) declared that at last she was successful in locating Steven Joyce’s $11.7 billion hole: 
It looks like it was in the consistently underfunded health budgets of the last National Government. With rot, mould and sewage in the walls at Middlemore Hospital, asbestos in the maternity unit, faulty power supplies and God knows what else, the National Party has some serious questions to answer.
She rightly questioned how National could afford a tax cut when the health system was in such a dire state? Offering tax cuts as an election ploy is a bad look for National when they allowed health system, among others, to rot away and suffer acute haemorrhage - bleeding inside, to be exposed later. 
 
Middlemore Hospital, which has revealed gross-negligence and dereliction of duties of the past government in general and DHB in particular. Under the rocks of a "rockstar economy" the new government unearthed mouldy walls, leaking sewer pipes, insecure power supply and asbestos in the hospital. The repair bills of this neglect would run into hundreds of millions of dollars. 

One needs to question credibility of former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and probe into his dereliction of duties. If he was not aware of the issues in the health system, or did not bother to probe into them despite hints of the problem, then he let us down badly. And his suitability in a lucrative job in the health sector that he let down, need to be questioned. 

It appears some DHBs have been dysfunctional, ineffective and inefficient. They appear to lack ability to speak the truth, with a fear of not annoying the Minister. They became bearer of good tidings, sweeping truth under the carpet. 

Credible Board members need to be aware of their fiduciary duties and responsibilities. Among others, they need to possess aptitude on scrutiny of crucial issues, especially property which is life blood of a health system after its personnel. The fact that they all failed is a symptom of an acute sickness in our health sector and brings into question the criteria of selection of DHDs. Racial mix in DHBs is essential to reflect the changing demography, remove cronyism, provide exposure to international experience and thus inject vigilance. 

One NZ Herald writer hit the nail on head by saying that one needs to look higher within National Party to appreciate the deficiencies of the Health Minister. Flora Calder of Epsom wrote:
John Key led the attack on our country’s well being and cannily chose to abandon ship early enough to score a knighthood. Former health Minister Tony Ryall had already made his escape.
Another letter writer at NZ Herald stated Sir John Key's only regret about his time was the flag. He questioned, what about the rotting, under-resourced, overcrowded hospitals, the large teacher shortage and the ever growing number of homeless families?

Health Minister Coleman with former Prime Minister, Bill English, who also abandoned ship, as FIJI PUNDIT has predicted. Now, Simon Bridges is left holding the baby, to build bridges of credibility on the mythical 'rock star' economy.
With the rats abandoning a sinking ship, Bill English and Steven Joyce were followed by Coleman, who ironically will have a lucrative job in health sector which he trashed. But the tragedy is that the remaining National MPs who were party to this destructive rot, mould and faeces are now undermining the new Government’s move to clean up the mess they left behind.

To rub salt on injury, Coleman and National’s Finance Spokesperson Amy Adams are blaming Labour for over promising. What a joke - this supposed  “over promising” was done a few months before the election, but underfunding, neglect and carelessness had been there for some 8 years!

It is exactly for this reason of larger than expected funding gaps in health and education, among others, that Labour’s first budget may not be as sweet as expected. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the government was discovering under-investment in a broad range of core-services. In a Radio Live interview, when asked about extent of the problem, she maintained her positivity and graciousness that won her the government. Ardern told Duncan Garner that it was neglect but not catastrophic, and was hopeful to manage the situation.

Labour's Finance Minister Grant Robertson (left) with Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. Unfortunately, because of acute underfunding, Robertson's upcoming budget may not be that sweet, as it has to be a "re-building" budget because of  the neglect of the past government.
Hence, Finance Minister Grant Robertson’s development budget has turned into a rebuilding budget - reinvesting in areas that were ignored. National blamed Labour for a big hole, but themselves left behind bigger ones, which are slowly being uncovered. They were so focussed on showing that mythical Sir John’s “rock-star economy” that they made the books look good - at the expense of public service.

And the biggest tragedy, in fact irony is, that all those who did this abandoned a sinking Titanic. And poor Simon is left holding the baby, and tasked to build bridges (pun intended) of credibility.

Now the motley over-sized opposition has to explain to New Zealand public why they deceived, appeased and hoodwinked the country with their fairy-tale “rock star” economy!

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political observer, a media commentator and journalist. He runs his blog, FIJI PUNDIT, and lives in Auckland. E-mail: thakurji@xtra.c.nz]