Written on 27 August 2021 by Peter Hughes

Open letter to public servants copy

Kate Hawkesby’s commentary goes too far in criticising the Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield.

Hawkesby is right to critique the responsiveness of the Public Service but there is a line, and her article crosses that line.

The headline on Hawkesby’s article reads ‘More scrutiny is needed for our bureaucrats’. She argues the bar is lower for public servants than for the private sector and if Dr Bloomfield was the coach of the All Blacks he would be getting dissected, analysed and critiqued by all.

I have a different view to Hawkesby and I’m sure many new Zealanders will too.

For the last 18 months Dr Bloomfield has fronted up to face intense scrutiny from journalists, often on a daily basis, as he is doing again right now. How many private sector CEOs do this?

Dr Bloomfield has been dissected, analysed and critiqued as much as any All Blacks coach in our history. I think there would be days when Dr Bloomfield might seriously consider the job of All Blacks coach if it were offered to him. But I doubt any All Blacks coach would want to swap places with Dr Bloomfield.

I’m proud of the job Dr Bloomfield has done.

New Zealanders do not expect perfection from public service chief executives, but they do expect accountability and integrity. And Dr Bloomfield has delivered that in spades.

Hawkesby’s attack on the “calibre of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Health” is a cheap shot.  Public servants work hard for New Zealanders every day, often in challenging circumstances and without any thanks. I’ve never met a single public servant who didn’t come to work every day wanting to do a good job.

Hawkesby writes “the only conclusion we could draw would result in a small chat with HR in which Bloomfield would be invited to bring a support person, followed by a press release about spending more time with his family, and, if he’s lucky, a small pay-out.” Hawkesby is right on this point. We don’t do it that way in the Public Service. When things go wrong, I expect Public Service chief executives to own it, fix it and learn from it. Public Service chief executives are expected to face the music, not cut and run, as Hawkesby is suggesting happens in the private sector.

On the occasions when criticism has been justified, Dr Bloomfield has fronted up and taken it on the chin publicly and got on with the job. That is what accountability and integrity looks like.

Hawkesby says Dr Bloomfield “has not demonstrated the light-footed dynamism of thought that's required in managing the risks of an ever-evolving pandemic.” That is plain wrong and, frankly, a gratuitous and unworthy attack on Dr Bloomfield’s professionalism and integrity.

I know better. I know Dr Bloomfield to be a dedicated public servant who works hard everyday to make a difference for New Zealanders. He is motivated by a spirit of service to the community he serves.

The arrival of the Delta variant and the Alert Level 4 lockdown has created challenges and some frustration for many New Zealanders. Across the country, public servants are working extremely hard to alleviate those challenges and to keep New Zealanders safe and supported.

Public servants are doing their best. They deserve our respect.

 

Peter Hughes

Public Service Commissioner

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