24 January 2013

Communications and Management Problems #nlpoli

The Auditor General’s annual report on departments, agencies and Crown corporations doesn’t have any one bit that would kill any provincial administration.

What the report does contain is a collection of examples of fundamental rot within the administration.  From the hiring problems at College of the North Atlantic, to lax inspections for liquor licenses and pesticides, to the string of problems in municipal affairs you get a picture of a government that simply doesn’t have any sense of purpose or direction. 

We are talking about basic jobs people in government should be doing to protect the public, stuff like making sure that places that sell liquor properly clean their beer glasses after each use.  From page 126 in the section on the liquor corporation:

“Our review identified issues in the following areas:

  • Legislation not enforced;
  • No documented policies and procedures;
  • No inspection plan or schedule;
  • Inspection reports inadequate and database inaccurate;
  • Smoke Free Environment Act not adequately enforced;
  • Enforcement not consistent; and
  • Enforcement not timely.”

From page 270, in the section on municipal affairs:

“Our review of the monitoring of municipalities within the Department identified issues with regard to:

  • lack of legislative compliance;
  • inadequate performance measurement and monitoring;
  • lack of monitoring of municipal debt;
  • incomplete and inaccurate database information; and
  • lack of policies and procedures.”

Basic stuff.

Found to be wanting.

Not merely not done well enough or properly but in too many instances just not done.

It’s not as though the government doesn’t spend enough money.  In another part of the report, the Auditor General notes that per capita “expenses in Newfoundland and Labrador are the highest in Canada. Furthermore, per capita expenses are approximately 50% higher than the average of all other provinces.”

Signs of this problem have been around for a long time.  The current administration is perhaps the only government in the history of civilisation that cannot get its public works done in something approaching a reasonable period of time and reasonably close to budget.  Again, we are not talking about small matters:  we are talking of delays taking years and increased costs that are upwards of double the original estimates. 

The cause of the problem is not just inflation in the marketplace.  It seems to be rooted inside government itself.  A goodly chunk of it likely has to do with the incredibly high turnover in the senior ranks of the public service not just in the past two years under Kathy Dunderdale but going back four or five years.

The Conservatives have a communications problem.   We know that because they’ve admitted they have a problem.  They still have communications problems, as evident in the mixed messages about the budget and the province’s financial state. 

Or Kathy Dunderdale’s confusion.

Or Jerome Kennedy’s last big interview in natural resources.

Or the Premier’s talking point disasters.

Or the fact that Kennedy, Joan Shea, and backbenchers like Paul Lane are able to go off the message track and wander about on their own.

Communications gaffes are not actually the problem itself.  They are merely symptoms  - signs, indications - of the underlying issue.  The real problem is  management.  The Auditor General’s report released on Wednesday just exactly how widespread the problem is.