Ben Thomas on public service neutrality

Ben Thomas writes:

In the excitement over North Korea expert Sir John Key’s column this week, another quite remarkable opinion piece went largely unnoticed.

A newspaper column by Phil Grady, acting Deputy Director of Mental Health and Addiction, one of the top-ranking public servants at the Ministry of Health, praised the new mental health strategy launched by his minister, Andrew Little.

It was a “once-in-a-generation” initiative, and gave him “genuine hope for the future of the country’s wellbeing”.

Grady’s language, coming from a member of the public or from a mental health lobby group, would seem merely enthusiastic, rather than the over-the-top oratory of the DPRK. Coming from a public servant it was nonetheless quite out of the ordinary. …

Their role is to advise on and to implement the government’s (in the sense of the elected politicians, the prime minister and her Cabinet) policy. Part of that implementation may include explaining and informing about government policy, but it should not include arguing for it in public or offering personal praise.

Following that logic, what would Grady do if a new government was elected, with a different mental health policy? Would he praise it as even better? Would he write a column criticising his new minister? The issues become obvious.

Excellent points by Ben Thomas.

Senior public servants shouldn’t be writing op eds in newspapers praising their Minister and saying their strategy gives them hope for the future of the country. It both sycophantic and inappropriate.

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