National circles the wagons for the spectacularly incompetent Sam Lotu-Iiga

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Government ministers at the National Party annual conference in Auckland this weekend circled the wagons to support an obviously incompetent cabinet minister – Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga.

Lotu-Iiga has been out of touch with the issues around SERCO’s profit-first, welfare-last approach to running Auckland’s Mt Eden Prison on behalf of SERCO shareholders.

The litany of allegations, some complete with video evidence, about organised fights, drug abuse, extortion, rape, intimidation and violence within the prison and extending out into the community has been staggering.

It turns out Lotu-Iiga knew about the most serious allegations of extreme violence for several months and, in what appears to be collusion with SERCO, kept this under wraps until it was exposed elsewhere.

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On 1 April this year in response to a parliamentary question Lotu-Iiga praised SERCO –

In the last prison performance table, might I just add, Serco’s Mt Eden Corrections Facility was the most exceptional prison based on core security, internal procedures, and its rehabilitation score. So it is clear that despite the fact that we have that private prison, it is one of the highest-performing prisons in New Zealand.  

Lotu-Iiga gave this answer despite already knowing of the serious allegations about SERCO-run Mt Eden. These prison “scores’ Lotu-Iiga refers to are public relations drivel similar to the A credit rating the biggest agencies gave Lehman Brothers till the day the bank went belly-up.

But government ministers are behind Lotu-Iiga. Deputy Prime Minister Bill English told the media he thought Lotu-Iiga had handled a tough week very well and “he has the total support of the cabinet and the caucus” while Social Development Minister Anne Tolley told the conference “Isn’t Sam doing a fantastic job this week?” John Key joined in the cheerleading for good measure.

The reason National backs an incompetent minister is the same reason the party continues to back incompetent Education Minister Hekia Parata – that these ministers represent constituent groups National is doing its best to win over – Pacific Island and Maori voters. Sacking either minister would be a bad look for National within those voter groups. 

So Key was happy to trash the likes of Adam Gilmore, Richard Worth, Maurice Williamson and even demote Judith Collins because that won’t change how National’s core voter base sees the party. However Lotu-Iiga and Parata represent voters National would not naturally hold onto so preserving their butts is a priority.

It’s the National Party’s soft prejudice of low expectations for its Maori and Pasifika ministers. 

Education Minister Hekia Parata this week not only refused to close a charter school, Te Pumanawa o te Wairua, plagued with financial, management, educational and drug abuse problems since it started but gave it an extra $129,000 this year to pay for the cost of “implementing its remedial plan”.

Parata has closed dozens of much larger, high-performing public schools in her tenure as minister but rewards a small boil on the backside of our education system with additional funding and more last chances than a proverbial nine-lives cat.

Meanwhile it’s well worth listening to journalist Anthony Loewenstein’s interview on Radio New Zealand on the weekend where he points to SERCO encouraging under-reporting of incidents in its prisons because such reports lower their “scores” and can result in big fines for the company under its contracts. He also points out the company routinely understaffs its prisons as a key way to make bigger profits, irrespective of the welfare of prisoners. 

Such practices are standard. The private sector frequently claims it is “more efficient” that the public sector but it’s a claim which falls apart on scrutiny. More efficiency for the private sector just means they pay their workers less and employ less of them.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Sack Sam Lotu-Iiga the Minister for Corrections,
    Minister for Pacific Peoples,
    Minister for Ethnic Communities,
    Sam has to go otherwise we the people will have no faith in anything he does anymore.

    Sam didn’t do a thorough enough job of watching over the intimidated tortured beaten up vunerable prisoners under his watch.
    He just believed the lies of the managers and fraudulent ratings of serco

    Serving a jail sentence doesn’t and shouldn’t make the violence acceptable, as judy and john keep telling us, prison is a terrible place and now we know why.

    serco does not belong in NZ justice Dept
    serco does not belong in any Dept in NZ
    serco belongs back in the UK

    See ya lata serco your not going to hurt our people anymore.

  2. I think another reason the government continues to support these ministers is because they are doing the job they were put there to do – implement privatisation policies without question for those higher up and take the hits when things go wrong. If it wasn’t them, it would be two others just like them so

  3. Of course if National did the decent thing and sacked two incompetent MPS there would have to be bye elections unless they are list MPS.
    A bye election runs the risk of Northland repeated,now JK wouldn’t want that would he !
    If they are list MPs it shows up the faults in MMP! incompetant people used to make up numbers for voting in the case of unpopular legislation.
    So many poor performers in parliament ,but they are safe as long as they do JKs bidding.
    If families of the abused in prisons could be in a position to sue the whole lot of prison people who enabled the abuse, it would be a good test case,of course Crown law sometimes uses our money, taxpayers money to fight anyone who challenges the status quo.
    A big pot of money would be needed by litigants
    Its to be hoped Serco,s contract will be cancelled and prisons brought back under control, but we wont hold our breath,Keys response will be “its Labours fault” as usual.

    capcha 7×4 =28

    • Key can only sack them from their ministerial roles, and he should. They would stay as backbenchers.

  4. Quite right Esoteric P.
    Would it be too Machievillian a conspiracy theory to suggest that it would be expedient for Key to give the two hospital passes of charter schools and privatised prisons to a Maori and Pacifica minister respectively. So when they predictably fail, as they have both done recently, it can be an outsider who will be thrown under the bus, not the policy. Remember, theses are policies that are red meat to the doctrinaire neo-liberals.

  5. Can’t help but wonder why the biggest crims of all aren’t in there, reaping what they had sown. I’m talking of the NatzKey Party and Associates . . . .

  6. Sam Lotu-Iiga the Minister for “In-Corrections” I would say.

    He has a definite attitude problem also sad man, a good fit for the leader Shonkey who is the nastiest of the bunch.

    • His performance as Minister for Pacific Island Affairs has also been abyssmal – all manner of shonkey things having gone on there for the last two years. Mind you, it was a hospital pass from Hekia Parata.

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