Bernard Hickey on Covid-19 response

writes at Newsroom:

Just like KiwiBuild, Auckland Light Rail, the Capital Gains Tax and effective climate change policies, this Government got bogged down in a welter of working groups, coalition disputes, bureaucratic infighting and stonewalling, and an inability at the top level of Cabinet to direct the organs of Government to carry out its will. Weak and overwhelmed ministers accepted ‘Yes Minister’ for an answer and were not able to stop the initial energy and direction from dribbling away into the sands of endless consultation, trials and ways for officials to avoid taking risks or challenging the status quo.

Just like many New Zealanders, the Government was complacent in those 102 days between cases of community transmission through May, June, July and early August. Now that is coming home to roost. We saw it when it emerged the Ministry of Health did not follow through on Cabinet’s order in June to test everyone working at the border and in Managed Isolation and Quarantine facilities. Now we’ve seen it again with the stalling of CovidCard.

It’s rare to see anyone inside the machinery of Government call out hand waving and dissembling by those within ministries and by ministers. The number one rule in Government is to preserve the political optics of ‘something is being done’ and to ensure there are no surprises or embarrassments for ministers. This has created a risk-averse culture of arse-covering and plausible deniability whenever accountability is demanded. 

Sam Morgan and the supporters of CovidCard in the private sector play by different rules and were not prepared to simply accept the status quo. We saw that on Tuesday when he and fellow tech entrepreneur Ian Taylor called out the Ministry of Health’s lack of commitment or ability to deliver CovidCard.

“We’ve effectively all stood down over the last couple of weeks. It became clear to us that it was going to fail and it wasn’t going anywhere,” Morgan said.

“It just became buried in the dysfunction of hopeless project managers,” he said.

“There’s just no execution capability in the ministry to do this.”

Ministers did not have the technical background to recognise this or rectify it, Morgan said. The Ministry was not committed to delivering the bluetooth card, and was instead pursuing the Google/Apple model for using bluetooth on smart phones as the way to track and trace contacts of people infected with Covid-19, he said. 

A very good summary.

“Minister Faafoi said the other day: ‘it’s a number of things we’re looking at. I don’t imagine I’ll put anything in front of Cabinet before the end of the year’,” Taylor said.

Such a sense of urgency.

The Ministry had instead committed to the Apple/Google initiative to use bluetooth in phone apps, but it had massive false positive and false negative rates, and was also not available to the 10 percent of the population who don’t have smart phones, let alone the large percentage unable to download or use apps.

This is why a card is a much better option. You just need everyone to have it in their wallet or purse. No phone needed. No download. No app install. No setup. You just keep it on you and forget about it unless you get Covid-19 or end up in close contact with someone who has it.

Comments (84)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment

%d bloggers like this: