There’s been a few instances over the past few months wherein the Government and the Director-General of Health have said one thing … and it’s turned out that the situation on the ground has been a little different.
A good example of this concerns the NZ Nurses Organization saying they were having issues with getting PPE, and other working conditions.
As it turned out, there were issues – and these were moved to be rectified; occasionally at a rather glacial pace by the local DHBs involved.
I was disquieted about that – as I’m the sort of person who generally presumes that if somebody on the front line says there’s an issue, and somebody somewhat removed therefrom says there’s not … then you believe the ordinary worker. At least enough to take them at their word that there’s something which deserves looking at – and then look seriously into it.
The past 48 hours have thrown up another cluster of such occurrences. Some events that should never have happened; some events that – with something like 19,000 people going through quarantine – were probably bound to have occurred eventually.
As applies the former, there’s been a notable discrepancy between what we were told towards the start of the occurrence … and what it is that now appears to be the case.
But here’s the thing – it’s tempting to go for the simplistic take on this. To assume that when there’s a dysjunction between the facts-on-the-ground and the words-from-the-mouth at the Parliamentary Press Conference … that that means somebody standing in the latter is wilfully obfuscating. Lying. Covering things (most prominently their own behind) up.
That’s what National wants you to believe. And to be fair, they’ve got understandable reason to presume so – they’ve certainly done it often enough themselves while they were in Government. It’s part of the nature of the game in politics, no matter which side of the aisle you find yourself upon.
Except I’m not sure that that’s what’s happened here. Not exactly, anyway. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that there seems to be reasonable evidence that it’s virtually the opposite.
Phrased another way: I have no reason to doubt that Bloomfield et co, and even the hapless David Clark *genuinely* believed they were in possession of the facts. That procedures were being followed. That we *were* in possession of what we said we were, doing what we said we were doing, things working basically as they almost ideally should.
And that the shock and fury many of us have experienced to find out that this is not, in fact, the case – has been an emotion they’ve felt, too.
Because it seems like they’ve been operating in almost as much of an informational void about this as we have. Perhaps even more so – as they had every right, as the lawfully empowered and responsible oversight of the situation, to presume that the datastreams they were getting were reasonably accurate and comprehensive in scope.
So why weren’t they. What went wrong.
Broadly speaking – I am calling this the “Yes Minister” defence.
Because that’s honestly what it looks like. Multiple layers of questionable communication let alone accountability and command-and-control, between often-competent and certainly well-meaning people at the top, and often-competent and certainly well meaning people at the bottom, that have allowed the *incompetent* exceptions to not so much *test* the rule as seemingly become it.
This does not absolve the Minister or the Government of ultimate responsibility in the overarching sense – it happened on their watch. But it DOES show that in the SPECIFIC sense, decision-makers at the top weren’t the directly proximate cause of these situations.
After all – superhuman though he may occasionally seem to be, it’s not like Dr Bloomfield could be personally across all quarantine facilities and testing-before-release in the country.
What I’m saying is – it’s easy and cathartic to focus upon the faces at the top, and fixate that they’re somehow the sum totality of the problem. To do so, in this instance allows the ACTUAL cause of these lapses to fester quietly out of sight. Safe in its relative anonymity and lack of true accountability.
At various points in the informational chains going upwards, and the implementation chains going back out, things have become broken. In fact, it’s inescapable to conclude that they’ve actually been severely broken for some time.
Our health system has some amazing men and women operating in it – but time and again seems to find itself with feet and nervous-bundles of clay.
Just look at Dr Bloomfield’s immediate predecessor, or various other bureaucrats and middle-managers who’ve graced the headline pages in ignominy over the past couple of years. In some ways, it’s almost amazing that the system’s performed as well as it has up until this point – in ‘peace-time’ let alone during the depths of the current crisis circumstance.
This is why the military’s really been brought in. Because the Government has rapidly come to realize that really … it can’t actually trust the informational picture, and the adherence to commands from the center, of those other agencies that were hitherto entrusted with the running of our quarantine system.
Perhaps that should have happened some time before now.
Pending the no-doubt inevitable Commission of Inquiry into our pandemic response all up … who can say.
All things considered, while I am not seeking to abrogate the burden of responsibility that is borne by those by now household names at the top of the tree … I do think it’s worth emphasizing that having responsibility for the situation, and being at fault so as to cause it – are not, strictly speaking, the same thing.
The factors that may have lead to this week’s major shortfalls, or various others of the events I’ve subtly alluded to – would quite likely have taken place regardless of who was Minister of Health at the time … or even perhaps regardless of who was in Government.
In fact, while I am openly somewhat partisan about this – I actually think that had National been in the driver’s seat, we would have had more numerous and risky occurrences to deal with. Simply because National has been quite plain in their intent to bring in more people with looser restrictions (particularly international students, and matching the Trans-Tasman Bubble with re-opening the border with China at the same time).
That’s why I don’t think sending David Clark afore a firing squad is actually going to help matters (in the short term, anyway). And why if there’s going to be a Witch Hunt – it should presumably be an Inquisition whose more searching instincts are focused rather further away and into darker recesses and corners than those we can see blaring back at us from the nightly news-casts as Tova O’Brien endeavours to tear to shreds the trustworthy reputation of the man we fondly call St Ashley.
There’s little to be gained from that. Except ratings and shock-value. Both for the Government’s political opponents, and for a scandal-hungry news-media looking to stoke the regime-change fires of the impending Election that’s coming later this year.
Our trust has been shaken, as a nation – and after what’s occurred – or, should I say, what’s nearly occurred (and hopefully hasn’t) – this week, that’s both understandable and as it should be.