Guest Post: The 15 border agencies

A reader who has first hand experience at the border has e-mailed me to share their strong support for National’s policy of having one agency in charge of the border, and has provided the following as to why this is necessary:

National’s new policy to delegate or create an agency to be in charge of the border is exactly what is needed right now. Here is a list of all the various agencies doing various different facets of border control, with insufficient overall leadership or governance from any single body. It’s no surprise that the virus has reemerged! 

1. The local DHB – in charge of the health response for their area. They provide nursing staff, wellbeing staff (they are generally hiring out-of-work air hostesses for this) and conduct testing. Each DHB has different testing labs and reporting methods. Further to this, each DHB has different roles and responsibilities depending on where in the country the facility is. Auckland has three different DHBs (Counties-Manakau DHB being the lead agency for the airport and some of the hotels, Auckland DHB for some of the other hotels, and Waitemata DHB for any staff coming from West Auckland or North of the Harbour Bridge) and has allocated various staff to be under the Auckland Regional Isolation and Quarantine Coordination Centre. Canterbury DHB has not submitted itself to the regional coordination centre and there is a unique dual-leadership structure in place there. And then Wellington, Hamilton and Rotorua have different arrangements again. 

2. NZDF – not actually in charge of anything, despite the assertion that ‘the troops have been sent in’ and Air Commodore Webb is sorting things out. Up until now, NZDF has simply been responsible for providing personnel to each hotel (was 4 personnel, now ramped up to 19), and a number of people to each regional coordination centre. No legislation has been used to give them any powers, for example the hotels have not been declared defence areas under the Defence Act 1990 which would give them substantial powers, including the ability to detain people trying to enter unlawfully. The military staff at each facility have been responsible for the logistics of accommodating the guests for 14 days. As just announced by the government, the NZDF commitment is going to increase substantially. The impact on normal training by the biggest military deployment since East Timor has not been articulated by the government. 

3. MBIE – was going to be ‘taking over’ in September or October, who knows what the progress of this is. Has only been involved in higher level stuff up until now despite supposedly being the lead agency and meant to be doing more from October, but they did have a hand in security arrangements. Their CEO is now in charge overall of the ‘All of Government Response’ – such as it is. 

4. Ministry of Health. From the get go, overwhelmed with mutiple operational tasks to do everything required of them. Probably quite predictable because they are not an operational ministry, they are a policy body. It’d be like getting the Ministry of Justice to do policing, or the Ministry of Defence to do combat operations! 

5. Private hotels – limited to providing the rooms, food and laundry. Contracted directly by the Ministry of Health in Wellington (skipping the regional coordination centres and local DHBs which causes significant friction). 

6. AVSEC – given a role to play early on in the piece because they had nothing else to do. They were responsible for two things – first was to capture all data on incoming travellers because customs / immigration and airlines would not share that info. So travellers would fill out an info sheet (manually, inevitably with errors), this would get scanned and then sent to a data entry team, who would enter it into an excel spreadsheet (again, manually, inevitably with errors) and then email it out to a gigantic distribution list. Massive privacy issues here, this has been tightened up somewhat, but it was a very wierd system. The second thing AvSec would do would be to provide 3 or 4 staff to each hotel as security. They are now withdrawing from this task. 

7. Private security companies. Variously contracted to do various things by each individual hotel, or by the DHB, or by MBIE. Basically to supplement AvSec, with varying standards of professionalism and competence. Now being replaced by NZDF.

8. Airlines. Air NZ would be contracted to charter flights between Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington up to two or three times a day. Multiple international flights into Auckland could not be mixed into a single ‘domestic transfer’ to another city, so sometimes there’d be only 20 or 30 people on an entire charter – costing about $30k a pop. They also needed a charter to return to Auckland at the end of their 14 days – huge costs!

9. Airport companies. Another link in the chain. 

10. Customs, immigration, MPI. Usual checks at the border for direct international flights – different in each region, so has resulted in various ad hoc arrangements depending on which airport is being used. 

11. Civil Defence – the initial response in March was done by Civil Defence, so some coordination centres are still using their IT systems, others are using NZDF or MoH or DHB or Avsec or MBIE – with the usual problems of trying to communicate between government departments each with their own IT systems, and privacy / security issues. 

12. Ministers reaching down for very low-level matters. There’s a fine line between checking up to make sure things are being done properly, and being distracted into micromanagement. 

13. NZ Police. Ended up being ordered to provide an officer to each hotel to sit there and do nothing. (A better solution might have been to have them on quick standby rather than have a few dozen cops at any one time sitting down at each hotel just in case something happened). More worrying was the lack of information about who was coming in until after they were there – criminals have been staying in hotels with no one being aware of their potential risk. 

14. Bus companies. Unsure who liaises with them to ensure testing is happening.  

15. Various other local authorities. Iwi own the Rotorua facilities, and needed to be engaged at various points. Local councils have a stake if neighbouring land is being used (for example for exercise yards)., Fire and Emergency NZ needed to be involved due to the unique considerations for evacuations, and no doubt there are others who have a finger in the pie. 

This government’s ad hoc approach of letting all these players and bodies do their own thing without any lead agency with the authority and responsibility to coordinate everything is not viable for long-term security. Appointing or creating a new agency to be in charge won’t cost much, but will go a long way to tie in all these different efforts. 

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