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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Labour's home to Dr Cock-up

This is a tale of two chicks.

They both happen to have doctorates, been placed in charge of putting practical matters right by this Labour government after major policy and preventive failure, have done a monumentally incompetent job, and both been quietly moved sideways after achieving next to nothing and squandering millions.

In both cases Government Ministers refused to replace them despite almost universal condemnation of their "work" until they decided it was time to shuffle off to another bureaucratic position. In all the abstract mutterings about policies, frameworks and procedures no one seems to be apportioning blame squarely on the people responsible for these quite blatant cases of reckless incompetence and gross mismanagement. Well, I'm sick of this overly polite bullshit where no one is held to account. The heads of these organisations are responsible - they make the decisions and advise their ministers. It's time to name names:

COCK-UP No.1: Dr Lisa Ferguson/Leaky homes
COST: $52m to date
INCOMPETENCE: Nov.2002 to resignation July 2005 only resolved 344 out of 3,300 claims whilst staff partied and owners fumed.

As head of the Weathertight Homes Resolution Service (WHRS) you think she would be trying to assuage angry home-owners; but MP Nick Smith has brought to our attention yesterday that she, instead, thought she was hosting party girl idol for her fellow bureaucrats:

WHRS "had a ‘Sound of Music’ theme party in Wellington for its 40 staff on the evening of Thursday June 30. The WHRS paid for all food and alcohol, and funded airfares and accommodation for Auckland staff. A fortnight earlier, on Friday June 17, a dozen Wellington staff flew to join Auckland staff for a ‘Pacific Islands’ team building extravaganza at the Stanford Plaza Hotel, involving kava drinking and dancing girls. Last December, the WHRS held a ‘Cowboys and Indians’ theme party in which all Auckland staff were flown to Wellington at taxpayer expense. Food and beverages were again paid for by the WHRS. Earlier last year, an ‘Aeroplane’ theme party was held on similar terms."

How did the damp owners greet her resignation:

John Gray, who represented seven Ponsonby Gardens townhouse owners awarded $700,000 in March after a weathertight service adjudication, was pleased Dr Ferguson was gone. He said she was dismissive of claimants.

Former service adjudicator David Gatley, who resigned last year in protest at the way the service was failing to help homeowners, said Dr Ferguson was "completely out of her depth and knowledge" as head of the service. He believed other senior staff connected with the service should also resign."


According to TVNZ's Sunday programme report she had the nerve to say:

"I think we give value for money for what we actually deliver, which is, an alternative dispute resolution service."

And the boggle-eyed, moron Internal Affairs Minister, George Hawkins - the most shambolic of all ministers - says:

"Many people think that we as a government have put out our hand to help these people and these people are getting the solutions."

The solution? Throw money at a bureaucracy that does squat!? What sort of a solution is that? - solving unemployment in Wellington!? Seeing as how he is also the Minister of local government - who let this crisis develop unchecked - you start to see how chronically and endemically useless our State officials really are. And this is all after the experience of case No. 2:

COCK-UP No.2: Dr Ruth Frampton/Painted Apple Moth
COST: $50m to date, $50m over next 2 years
INCOMPETENCE: May 1999 to resignation in May 2002 let moth spread from 1kmsq that would have cost a few million to half of Western Auckland costing $100m and aerial spraying tens of thousands of people.

As the MAF official in charge of the Painted Apple Moth eradication programme she botched from the very start as she focussed on monitoring and research but didn't actually bother about the eradication bit, treating the whole thing as an academic-type lab experiment. In other countries people who make mistakes this big are charged with economic sabotage. In NZ they just get to quit whenever they want without being pushed and recieve no penalties at all.

From the Auditor-General's report 6.122

"Of the 33 recommendations made in the independent review of the response to the painted apple moth, the only recommendation not to have been accepted and acted upon by MAF was to develop a pest management strategy for the moth."

In other words they had no plan, got a bollocking for having no plan (instead continuing to "monitor" the moth as it went completely out of control) and then came back and still had no plan! The Herald article of 24/12/2002said about Auditor-General's report (dumped, you will note, just before Christmas so no one would notice):

"The report found there were "flaws and errors of judgment" by senior MAF staff in response to the painted apple moth incursion.
* There were "poor working relationships" between the senior MAF official in charge of the operation and key people in the forestry industry she was charged with protecting.
* It was "not acceptable" that minutes of key meetings in the early stages of the moth incursion were not kept, the report says.
* An operational plan on how MAF would deal with the pest was finally produced after the eradication attempt had been going for two years.[!!!]...

MAF came under fire for the botched painted apple moth campaign, and criticism fell mainly on its former Director of Forest Biosecurity, Dr Ruth Frampton...


The Greens at the time (May 2002) noted:

“Last year the MAF appointed Community Advisory Group called for Dr Frampton to resign, saying the Painted Apple Moth incursion and attempts to control it were a fiasco.
“Recent developments which have culminated in Dr Frampton’s resignation today further support this view and the people of Auckland deserve a full explanation of what is going on. "


A TVNZ report of Jan 2002 stated the extent of the madness clearly:

""They've caught moths all over the city from Greenlane to Pakuranga to Waitakere, what's the use of spraying this area when when they are simply going to infest from the outside?" says Hana Blackmore of the Community Advisory Group.
However, MAF says traps and ground spraying have those areas under control, but the bushes of west Auckland are a different story, and the moth can only be targeted by air.

"If it doesn't work, other options may need to be examined," says Dr Ruth Frampton of MAF.

"Regardless, if blanket aerial spraying was one of those options - and it has always been an option - then we would have to go back to the government to get their support and funding for that."


Too little too late, lady. Let's look at what she said when this whole $100m waste was only goiung to cost a few million ( From a MAF media release with Frampton's name at the bottom of it dated 19 May 1999

"Decisions about on whether or not to try to eradicate unwanted pests are based on an assessment of the probability of success," she said. "The first step in assessing this is to carry out what is known as a delimiting survey to establish the extent of spread of the pest."

In the case of the painted apple moth, the survey is almost complete, and results indicate that it is confined to a handful of properties clustered together in an industrial area, with another site about 300 metres away. The total area involved in Glendene - including the outlying site - is less than one square kilometre."


"Delimiting survey" - that never ended! Surveyed it as it spread over the city. Eradication yet? No, no. More surveys... And how did Labour try to disguise this unnecessary catastrophy (from Labour MP David Cunliffe's breezy, congratulatory, May 2002 statement

"It is important to note that Dr Frampton had a difficult and thankless task and gave it her best effort. We wish her well as she moves to take up a more technical role elsewhere in MAF...
I wish to reassure constituents that no decision has been made yet on the future of the project. A great deal of analysis is going into the draft cabinet paper."


"Wish her," fucking "well"? She's cost the country 1/10th of a billion dollars, and you wish her well!!!? Fucking hell, I hate to think what you'd have to do to get a condemnation - losing $5 billion? $10 billion? What about a mild rebuke - $20 billion? And as for "analysis" - what about this as an analysis: don't use research academics to do pest control. That simple enough? Recognise a problem when it occurs and do something about it. That simple enough? The latest report (Herald 13/06/2005) is grim reading:

"Dr Cullen also revealed that the cost so far of the Government's war against the painted apple moth in West Auckland is almost as much as if the moth had been left to its own devices.

"In the case of the painted apple moth, the programme is now approaching the bottom-end of the estimated cost of simply allowing the moth to spread," he said.

When the decision was made last year to launch an all-out aerial attack on the moth, budgeted at $90 million over three years, Maf said the pest could cause between $58 million and $356 million in damage over 20 years.

The estimated cost so far of the current eradication programme is $39 million. That is on top of last year's campaign, which cost between $11 and $13 million."

10 Comments:

At 27/7/05 5:28 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nah dont agree. On the weathertight homes yeah maybe

on the bloody moth, nope. this is a much bigger cock-up than you think and Ruth was the only sane one in the asylum.

Disclosure: Ruth is a mate of mine, so bear that in mind as you read the following:

known info 1. The moth is a mild nasty but not a serious pest anywhere in the world (easily verified - google the damn thing)

known info 2. the only species it was known to favour are already under spray regimes (apples and roses basically) (ditto)

known info 3. The number of successful eradications of an insect pest can be numbered on one hand internationally - by the laws of probability, eradication attempts for insect pests are pissing in the wind and always will be. (possible slight hyperbole but by and large true)

known info 4. Ruth ran one of the only successful eradications of an insect pest 5 yrs before in Auckland when she dealt to the mediterranean fruitfly outbreak. She was and is the best in the world. She turned down many and far better paying jobs offshore because she loved NZ. (true and easily verified)

known info 5. The old boys club didnt want an insect scientist and a (yea gods!) woman in the forestry role, bore a grudge against her (see below) and spent a good deal of time and effort to white-ant her

Analysis.

a 10-20 pests arrive and acclimatise each year anyway - so you prioritise

b the public hates spraying (remember the crap forestry campaign for the other non-pest moth in auckland (tussock moth) - yes the campaign that led to the Ministry of Forestry getting canned for stupidity - ruth wrote part of the technical assessment of why the tussock moth campaign was hysterical nonsense -see old boys and revenge above,)

c this pest isnt considered serious anywhere

d one day you might need to spray for a real pest and don't want to spook everybody

e you don't actually know where they all are,

f the scum in the forest industry are pissed because their pet mate didnt get the job and are trying to take you down (+ using W Peters to ask questions in the House too, long before this moth arrived) - a real nasty hate and whispering campaign that only the old lags can manage - how can a woman expect to do a forestry job, she only knows about pests not about trees etc etc.

g you have an obligation not to waste millions of taxpayers money for no reason.

h BtK is licensed as safe and for use up to 4 times - it is not to be squirted all over the place hundreds of times - this upsets the manufacturer who may piss on you the day we get gypsy moth here and really need the stuff.

Personally I think Ruth deserved a bloody medal for wearing all that shit.

I also really want to know why spending $100s of millions to fail to eradicate a harmless common pest was a good idea.

The whole thing is a classic case of bureacratic infighting, revenge politics, panicking greens and the desire to "do something" overcoming common-sense.

So yes I think the moth does illustrate a bureacratic fuck-up and a huge waste of money, but i think your bone should be pointed much more appropriately at the Minister of Biosecurity, the forest industry (or more precisely the FRI) and the Greens.

 
At 27/7/05 5:30 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yes, and you of all people should know better than to trust a government NPV on the likely impacts -check the assumptions.

 
At 27/7/05 6:37 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Anon: You have made some excellent comments and clarifications.
I will conceed:
After Dr Frampton was moved on the ineptitude did not stop.
Anything involving spraying the public is fraught esp. with "Greenies".
The A-G's report did mention inter-staff problems (that you have explained as "white anting" and rivalries etc. - which I accept).
The rather low commercial impact projections did not warrant a large expenditure.
Tackling the issue involves complex relationships.
Ministers should also be held accountable.

But:
1. To your point No.3&4: The white tussock moth only cost $16m and was done rapidly (compared to the apple moth) and you would think that sort of prior experience would be drawn on to achieve at least a similar result and timeline.

2. To your point e: Having followed this issue from the time of the infestation being publicly known in mid 1999 when Dr Frampton seemed so confident about having the 1 sq km dealt with through to last year's spraying right up to the top of the ridge here in Grey Lynn!, the point of the project as I saw it unfold was that Dr Frampton did not grasp that she had to kill the moth and not just monitor and survey it. I think she made the error of procrastination. Thinking that once the survey was complete, then after that a spraying plan would follow but without seemingly setting/or keeping any realistic timelines. She seemed to have consultation and all the bullshit things like traps etc. going on without realising what the actual objective was. You say she was hindered, but I don't think that is much of an excuse. A competent person would have set a timetable and got the minister on side. As a project management failure this is right up there with the Police and their INCIS debacle.

PS. I do not know Dr Frampton (or Dr Ferguson) personally or ever met them. I do, however, know someone in the biosecurity information campaign that had to put up with my constant barbs about the misshandling of the whole thing.

 
At 27/7/05 6:40 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Hang on. Wasn't the "responsible" minister Marion Hobbs? If it is, it is all starting to make sense now.

 
At 27/7/05 7:37 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

snap! (but Sutton took over halfway when MH got moved aside to a "less demanding" portfolio).

I don't doubt that Ruth made some mistakes, in fact i think she handled the build up and the stakeholder side quite badly.

but spending $100 m to eradicate a pest of no known consequence seemed so stupid that perhaps she thought no-one would go through with it once some facts got on the table?

When you look at the rubbish numbers the CBA threw up - the range is too broad to be useful, and i think they just guessed a big number to make it sound bad. even so, the CBA was over 20 yrs.

From an insurance perspective - and this is really an insurance issue - the key question Ruth tried to answer was - how much was the right amount to spend to eliminate a maybe pest that could (if you believe the CBA) cause between $2.5m and $17m per year of damage when she knew even the low number was bullshit (orchardists spray for codlin - the spray gets this moth too).

naive? yes. incompetent? - a bigger call - one I wouldnt make.

On the building case, i know less but i think you are smack on the money with it.

 
At 8/8/05 11:53 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maf's policy document "Potential Economic Impact on NZ of the Painted Apple Moth" July 2000 makes it clear that the effects of the moth would be relatively small.It goes on to say that "No introduced insects have yet caused serious problems to indigenous forests". Then, even more tellingly it says: "A more effective, lower cost way to control forest pests in the long term is through biological control..."
Such controls are now used to control everything from the looper moth (a forestry pest) to gorse. By the way - according to Maf 80% of PAM finds in West Auckland were on wattles. Not surprising as in Australia, where it's a native, it is known as the "wattle moth". They don't consider it a pest there.

 
At 8/8/05 4:05 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

Yes, yes this is all well and good but the point was that the government wanted to eradicate PAM at the early stage so we wouldn't have to have any "pests in the long-term". That was the objective.

The person put in charge seems to have thought, as you do Anon, that it is relatively harmless, therefore they wouldn't bother to eradicate it. They were not asked to make that call. Their opinion about it should not have gotten in the way of what her task was: eradication. Not monitoring, or continued studying, methods of control and mitigation etc. If she couldn't get her head around it she should have realised that and resigned - and if she didn't do that she should have been fired. The govt. took it's sweet time about that and paid for it big time.

The government made a very clear commitment to wiping PAM out. It put the wrong person in charge - for whatever reason. Because of the lack of urgency and lack of a plan it spread to the point of being uneconomic to wipe out - perhaps her idea all along. So she could have a continuing insect to study?

If Dr Frampton had been put in charge of introducing and successfully establishing pests she would get a gold medal.

 
At 8/8/05 4:12 pm, Blogger t selwyn said...

PS: I have no data on the Med. Fruit Fly outbreak 5 years ago that Anon. reports Dr Frampton successfully "dealt to." If correct, I can see why she was initially qualified.

 
At 12/8/05 10:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The govt has never had any proof that the PAM was any more than relatively harmless. Before the last election MAF recommended going for control only, not eradication, but DOC, Forest & Bird plus the Forestry industry put immense pressure on the govt to continue with eradication at enormous expense to the taxpayer.
Spraying had the effect of driving the moth further out (especially the initial ground spraying by Frampton using chlorpyriphos and other very toxic chemicals). No real decrease in the size of the spray zone was achieved until MAF started releasing thousands of sterile moths at the various hotspots throughout the zone in the last year of the campaign.

 
At 17/9/08 8:36 am, Blogger aoteamafia said...

The first MSDS for Foray 48B was made for the U.S Department of Defence 1992 ,they must have had a problem with moths infesting there scuds .She should have read it unless she is one of them .seen as there are maps showing the spray zone on the shore predating the dicovery of one male moth by almost a year. it looks like it was not about a moth wake up!

 

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