A Failure At The Border – What One Returnee’s Worrisome Experience Reveals About What’s Actually Going On In Isolation

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Thanks to those concerning occurrences at the Pullman – along with other more recent circumstances – our news for the next few weeks is likely to be once again dominated by the term “Border Failure”.

That is understandable – the recent circumstances via which first the South African strain and then the UK variant made their way out of containment deserve serious scrutiny. However, there’s another dimension to failures in our border policy. One which also mandates public attention and concern. Not least because that which underlies the latter also may very likely be actively contributing to the former.

It’s a story about dangerously unaccountable MoBIE managers or other MIF factotums seemingly making up laws on the spot, and men who would dearly like to enforce them People’s Republic of China style. It’s a story about ordinary New Zealanders not breaking any laws – including, lest there be any doubt, the ones put in place to protect us from Covid-19 – and yet being portrayed as the bete noir.

It’s also a story about what happens when answers are sought for all of the above, and a concerted pattern of deceit and stonewalling is thrown up by officialdom in response.

To put it simply – it’s something that should worry us all. Because if the safety of our border rests upon questionable decisions and questionable decision-makers such as these, operating in a culture that seemingly actively promotes a lack of oversight and overt hostility to external scrutiny when things fall short … then it’s not just one returnee in one managed isolation facility that’s a potential victim here. It’s everyone.

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We saw that not so long ago with the situation around testing for border workers. And not so long afore that with the situation around PPE for health workers in certain DHBs. There was a persistent pattern where a problem was identified by somebody proximate to Things Going Awry; and instead of it being attended to, walls went up that prevented oversight from occurring. All the while, bland assurances were given that things were Under Control and concerns swiftly acted upon. As we know from both of those aforementioned scenarios, this wasn’t the case. Even Cabinet, one of the highest bodies of authority in the land, was shut out by officialdom insistently misleading it as to what was really going on within their demesnes out there in Borderland. It took a massive outcry and who knows how many New Zealanders placed at completely unnecessary risk before finally Something Got Done.

What we’re dealing with here, with this story, is a microcosm of that. Some decision-making and some decision-makers at a managed isolation facility that have decided that “they are the law”, and so they’ll run the place as they see fit without regard for actual proper practice (let alone legality) in the matter. It’s not hard to see why this is dangerous – it already patently has been.

And when somebody probes this, queries it, follows it up with people further up the chain of command – the whistleblower, as ever, becomes the ‘bad guy’. Subjected to hard scrutiny and unwarranted treatment designed to punish them for not just looking up, but speaking up as well.

In a managed isolation facility, where you’re effectively subject to the authority of whomever’s in charge in a way unequalled here outside of prison or the mental health ward of a hospital, that can prove quite the scary prospect. Even before a man in uniform starts making strange sounding remarks about “hangings” for people who step out of line or the desirability of emulating an Argentinian military dictatorship (and, one presumes, ‘disappearing’ people who become ‘inconvenient’). Or pointedly tells you you’re going to be facing “retaliation” from “the people upstairs” at the facility and ‘asks’ when the last time was that you were raped.

But let’s return to the start of all of this, and take a walk-through the circumstances in question to more properly introduce the avenues and the areas of concern. Some of these were profiled in a recent Sunday Star Times piece, and that journalist should be commended for bringing such matters to our collective attention. However, having reviewed much of the primary material myself, it would appear that the problem is a rather larger one than first suspected.

In particular, while the inappropriate and intimidating comments from one NZDF serviceman were indeed attention-grabbing, the worrisome chain of events of which they were part suggests that one of our managed isolation facilities appears to be operating as something of a legal black hole. Even before we get to the major spheres of concern for this piece, developments such as a managed isolation facility “mysteriously losing” a returnee’s day-three test results for almost a week – leaving her in a limbo of not knowing whether she might be infected or not – present clear points of eyebrow-raising disquiet. Especially given the suspiciously ‘coincidental’ timing involved that could well make it look like it had been done in reprisal for an entirely legitimate (and not disrespectful or rude, still much less ‘illegal’) inquiry.

Shades of Nurse Ratched abound.

To begin somewhere more closely proximate to the beginning, the woman at the center of all this – Giota Kalogirou – arrived back in New Zealand early on the morning of the 4th of September last year. I feel it may be worth emphasizing that this was some four months ago, as it’s obviously well before phrases like “super-infectious UK strain” or “South African strain”, etc. were in circulation.

On the 5th of September, in the afternoon, her partner stopped by while she was out in the exercise-yard and they had a conversation through the fence-lines. Now, again, there’s been quite some misapprehension about this detail in the responses I’ve seen from various people (including a letter to the Sunday Star Times upon the subject), so it’s worth walking through properly to get right. There’s two fence-lines in question (an interior and an exterior fence) with a two meter separation between them. Social distancing, in other words, is observed; and the returnees are wearing PPE while out there. This is an intentional thing and a known quantity for the overseers of the facility as official policy upon the matter is that, and I quote: “Guidance around meeting family and friends at fence lines is continuously provided. The intent of the order is that meeting friends and family at fence lines for socially distanced, PPE protected, short catchups is acceptable.”

Now, I appreciate that there’s room to have different views about that provision. Some people – especially in light of recent developments at our border – would be in favour of removing that capacity entirely. That is a legitimate view in my opinion – provided it is actually done properly and legally by the proper authorities rather than being rolled out on an ad-hoc basis as “retaliation” against an individual returnee the facility management appear not to like the look of. Because seriously – with the considerable individual autonomy that is (again, legitimately) given up by a returnee placing themselves in managed isolation, it is not hard to see how the potential for abuse, extortion, or capricious cruelty that has little to nothing to do with protecting our people and our border from the virus may come into the equation if we tolerate individual low-level functionaries making up the rules as they go along and as they see fit. It’s dangerous!

The same day, it was observed by Kalogirou’s partner, Tudor Clee, that there was something strange going on vis a vis the ability of returnees to sit down outside in the exercise area – say, to perform yoga. A noticeably old man in the exercise yard with a yoga mat was told by security he wasn’t able to sit down; which seems a bit inhumane in my view, as expecting returnees of an advanced age to be consistently in motion for the entire time that they’re able to be outside almost certainly isn’t practicable nor reasonable.

Clee decided to clarify this, both for the sake of the old man as well as the fact that it also affected his partner. He spoke to a uniformed policeman and serviceman who were also on patrol around the site, and offered to liaise with the security supervisor apparently responsible for the ruling. The policeman clarified that the older gentleman was, in fact, able to sit while out in the exercise yard provided he wasn’t in a spot that would block the way of others – and further noted to Clee that there was an ongoing problem in this area as seemingly each day the ‘rules’ about this seemed to change based upon who was enforcing them.

Now I mention this because this is the first significant interaction between Clee and the authorities running the facility (featuring representatives from First Security, the Defence Force, and the aforementioned police officer), and while it did lead to an official clarification of the situation to establish what the ‘ground rules’ actually were (posters going up inside the facility over the next few days advising returnees that they would be able to use yoga mats in the exercise yard) – it also appears to have put Clee and Kalogirou “on their radar” and not in a positive manner.

It’s therefore perhaps not unsurprising that when Clee and Kalogirou were talking through the fence-line five days later on the 10th of September they found themselves approached by a police officer and an NZDF serviceman, and told that this would be the last night they’d be able to do so. This was because the facility was allegedly going to board up the exercise yard to cut it off from exterior view from the street, on the basis that there was concern about people driving past the facility may have been filming or photographing as they went and therefore “identifying Standard Operating Procedures [SOPs]”. There was also some concern about potential escapees mentioned. Again, you can probably form a legitimate view about walling off the exercise yard like that – provided it’s done legitimately, of course. But the curious thing is that this doesn’t appear to have happened. No boarding went up on the next day, or in the days subsequent to that. And, as we’re about to see, the ‘justification’ advanced by the serviceman for the boarding up of the exercise yard goes straight out the window. It almost looks like the whole thing was merely an attempt to get a perceived ‘troublemaker’ out of their hair. Even despite an utter lack of any actual improper conduct or rule-breaching going on by the apparent target of the effort.

This is particularly the case given the unsolicited phone-call that Kalogirou received the next day (the 11th) from CPOMED [Chief Petty Officer – Medical] Olivia West, who appears to have been driving things at the facility in question. West informed Kalogirou that she’d apparently “complained” about the shift in policy on talking through the fenceline, and informed her that doing so would now lead to her being prosecuted. Kalogirou, understandably, was rather perturbed by this, and was perplexed that West had also directly told her the purported change in policy around fenceline conversations had nothing to do with the previously advanced justification of concern about passersby scoping out Standard Operating Procedures.

Shortly after this, Kalogirou received an “important notice” in hard-copy detailing the shift to barring conversation through the fenceline. She found it peculiar that this wasn’t on hotel letterhead as other official notices and correspondence had been, and was hand-signed by CPOMED West (not something you’d do if you were disseminating such a notice to over a hundred rooms at once). More perplexingly, as far as she could tell by liaising with other returnees, they hadn’t received any such notice. Nor was there any information about the legal regulation upon the matter having actually changed. It almost seemed as if she was being singled out by CPOMED West for having “complained” (i.e. her partner having asked a reasonable question of security several days earlier that turned out to show a bit of an inconsistency in application of the rules, leading to this being positively clarified to everybody’s benefit), and was now being punished as a result.

So she contacted CPOMED West to clarify what was in the notice – specifically what the actual detail of the purported legal change was. If you’ve just been told that you’re liable to prosecution for breaking the rules, for activity that had otherwise seemed to be perfectly viable within those rules, I feel it’s an understandable thing to do. This conversation went strangely, however – with CPOMED West making a number of claims about a “directive” or material “available online” or purported practice at every other managed isolation facility in the country that all turned out to be completely false. The material in question just simply did not exist. And when the actual contents of whatever was being proffered turned out not to cover what CPOMED West claimed it to deal with, she appears to have just invented another fake element. And then done so again when it turned out that that, too, was a fact-free assertion on her behalf. And again. And you get the idea.

In the evening on the 11th, Kalogirou was once more in the exercise-yard and Clee, her partner, having been advised of the situation was there to speak with her. Now, Clee is a lawyer – and a very, very good one; and whatever you might so happen to think of the legal profession, I don’t think it possible to fault a man for standing up for his partner when they feel they’re under threat. So it was that when CPOMED West came out to declare that the conversation was illegal under a particular piece of legislation (a stance contradicted by another Navy officer just a few minutes beforehand who’d said that talking was permitted as long as it was less than fifteen minutes at a time), Clee had the relevant legislation in hard copy on him and produced it to show that this was not at all the case. CPOMED West then shifted justification, claiming that the change in regulation had come through “in an email” and that she “[wouldn’t] be sending it out”. Or, (para)phrased another way: “I have the legal authority to claim the law’s just changed and threaten you with prosecution under it” “May we see this law?” “No.”

This then changed after further inquiry to CPOMED West admitting that there was no such directive in writing or otherwise, and that the entire thing was based on how she happened to “feel” at that point in time. That’s it. That’s literally the basis for waving the specter of a prosecution at a returnee. What one low-ranking official operating entirely out of their own head “feels” at the time – and which they pointedly state they’re “not prepared to put […] into writing” so that the situation can be confirmed and avoided in the future.

It is no wonder that the two New Zealand Police officers on the scene, who appear to have been beacons of calm and sense at this stage of proceedings, both refused to endorse the notion that some flagrant law-breaking had allegedly just occurred.

Again, it doesn’t take much cogitation to see why this situation is both farcical and dangerous. Farcical because two NZDF facility staffers provide diametrically opposed ‘clarifications’ of what is allowed (i.e. non-prosecutable, safe) conduct at their facility; and downright dangerous because it really does start to seem like this has little to do with any actual regulations or community safety – and more with a Chief Petty Officer really putting the “Petty” back into her rank. And that’s without even getting into the frankly bizarre spectacle of CPOMED West insisting that Kalogirou only perform yoga stretching when she’s personally present to stand over her and dictate what forms of stretch are “allowed” to be performed with verbal beratings for ‘unapproved’ movements. I’m sure that the Royal New Zealand Navy’s training programme for medical officers is world class – although I would be rather surprised to find out this also rendered West a qualified yoga instructor.

The next major interaction occurred on the 13th – and featured the encounter with the NZDF serviceman who’d made the rather alarming remarks so focused upon in the Sunday Star Times’ writeup of the episode. Now, as these have been broadly detailed in other media, I’m not going to spend much time on those here. I think that just about everyone would agree that what was said was inappropriate; and that especially in light of recent events in Washington (which saw the FBI remove a dozen National Guardsmen from front-line duty around the inauguration due to potential far right links or views) or the court martial charges of espionage laid against an NZDF soldier with far right affiliations two months ago, having NZDF personnel openly talking up military dictatorship is pretty concerning just on its own merits. This becomes especially the case given the specific context for the remarks in question – wherein a serviceman guarding a facility responds to queries about the illegal disregarding of the rights of the civilians within, by expressing a desire to emulate Argentina or the People’s Republic of China in their treatment of ordinary people or ‘dissidents’, and a potential enthusiasm to effectively be given carte-blanche to do so with greater impunity.

Now, lest I be misinterpreted – I consider the border control programme to be a necessary thing. Keeping out the pandemic has meant that we’ve all seen our rights curtailed by our Government at various points in service of the greater good. I don’t object to that – although I do think it important to register that that is what has occurred.

However, in this situation I think it’s pretty clear that that’s not really what we’re dealing with here. The treatment meted out to Kalogirou doesn’t seem to have much to do with protecting New Zealand from the virus; and doesn’t appear to have resulted from any actual Government directives upon the subject. It would be easy to put the whole thing down to the misjudged actions of a few staff – perhaps the result of some military personnel, operating outside of the environment they’ve trained for and now having to interface with civilians on a day-to-day basis not adapting too well to it. I do think there’s an element of that.

But more intriguingly, the conversation entered into by the NZDF serviceman on the 13th suggests a different ultimate authority is involved: namely, the “hotel owners” (to quote his exact words upon the subject). Per his explanation of the situation to Clee and Kalogirou, the governmental staff running the managed isolation facility came under pressure from the owners of the hotel to start changing policy on an ad-hoc basis for what effectively amount to PR reasons. He even declares that while hotel management and CPOMED West ostensibly “work side by side, [CPOMED West] is just the face” – with the real source of the alterations in practice being “civy” demands from the hoteliers.

I shall say that again: instead of the Government (i.e. the Ministry of Health guiding the NZDF and MoBIE) setting the standards and directing how things are done in a vital component to our border-control strategy … non-government hotel managers and owners are apparently calling the shots. Upon the basis of PR concerns. And if you cast your mind back to what the Chief Petty Officer who’s supposed to be implementing that strategy at this facility had said when directly asked if these curiously undocumented changes were from the Government .. it would now also appear that when caught out deviating from the Government’s instruction, she was not adverse to blatantly lying repeatedly (whilst also indulging in ‘retaliatory’ conduct toward the potential scrutineer) to attempt to cover it up.

It does not take a Director-General of Health to appreciate why this is deeply concerning. Even before we begin to consider what other areas and at which other facilities, rules may have been monkeyed with at the behest or preference of improper authorities indeed. And, for that matter, before we ponder what it means that some of these questionable exercises of an improper authority appear to have been motivated via a desire for “retaliation” by some of the personnel involved.

Because make no mistake – that looks to be what has happened here. You don’t have to take my word for it – the NZDF serviceman who appeared on the 13th to talk with Clee and Kalogirou quite directly stated it himself. His exact words were that the pair should “expect round two”, which would seem to suggest that as applied “retaliation” (again, his own words), there had already been a ’round one’ that Kalogirou had hitherto been experiencing.

There is an incredible amount of trust that goes into the Managed Isolation Facility concept – and it’s on all sides. New Zealanders trust that these installations are keeping us safe from the pandemic which rages out beyond our borders. We – and for that matter, the staff running them – trust that returnees will live up to their side of the deal while they’re in them. And the returnees trust that while they’re under the care of an MIF, that they’ll be treated fairly and decently by those in charge. They’ve given up an awful lot of power over themselves to these overseers, so the notion that some of these staff are exercising that power in an abusive or manipulative manner is deeply disconcerting. Even before we consider one of those staff asking questions about when you were last raped or talking about their desire to emulate dictatorships where perceived-problematic sorts just ‘disappear’.

With all of that in mind, it’s unsurprising that Clee’s next action was to lay an official complaint with the powers that be – both to try and bring some clarity (or, if you prefer, ‘sanity’) to the scenario, and also because Kalogirou was genuinely fearful that her situation was about to deteriorate further. Again – others may disagree with me upon this score, but I don’t consider that to be an unreasonable development on his (or her) part. One of the core principles of our largely successful open and democratic state is that where extraordinary power or extraordinary circumstance is encountered – it can also be subjected to (extra)ordinary scrutiny as a necessary check and balance upon the situation. Both for the sake of those ordinary Kiwis who may be subject to the power or embroiled in the circumstance in question – as well as for the sake of everybody else who may so happen to find themselves or one of their loved ones in a similar situation at some point in the potentially not too distant future.

In other words – we all benefit when proper oversight is applied to extraordinary powers; and where that oversight may perhaps have gone a bit astray, we all benefit from exterior scrutiny being applied in its place through a mechanism such as Clee’s filing of complaint.

The responses to this which he received are best described as a calculated campaign of carefully crafted adjacency. As in, they sound like they’re answering his concerns – but are in fact avoiding the meaningful substance of same. Something which becomes much more apparent thanks to Clee’s OIAing of all the communications within the relevant agencies pertaining to his complaint – which means that we get to see the ‘behind the scenes’ processes via which the people responding to him generated their answers.

A good example of this in practice is the complaint around the NZDF serviceman’s remarks invoking rape and retaliation. The official response to Clee’s complaint makes out that these remarks were put to the serviceman in question for comment by MoBIE/Defence as part of the investigative process, and that the serviceman had stated he didn’t recall making them. In reality, the OIA which tells us what was actually communicated shows that nothing of the sort occurred. Instead, it appears that somebody acting on NZDF’s behalf chose to effectively make up words in reply and attribute them to the serviceman on these matters. One potential interpretation of why this has occurred, would be that it was realized how damaging his actual reply might have been – so such a situation was avoided by simply not putting the remarks in question to him, and instead engaging in an act of ventriloquism by speaking on his behalf in a bid to make the situation go away.

Another example pertains to the specific query lodged by Clee over the “retaliation” which the serviceman had stated was impending against Clee and Kalogirou. The response from MoBIE states: “Our Auckland Regional Operations Team have oversight of staff in the MIF, and have assured me that there is no intended “retaliation” and there are no concerns regarding [Kalogirou]’s immediate safety.” And yet, how was this arrived at? Per the OIAs for the actual communications ‘behind the scenes’ involved, there doesn’t appear to have been any serious attempt at investigating this allegation. Just a bland assurance from somebody at a mid-level managerial position that the people rather further down the chain under them (whom they haven’t bothered to directly speak to about the matter at issue) do not in fact have any intent to do the thing that they had previously quite directly said they’d do. How very reassuring. Especially in light of those instances wherein something clearly proven via the audio recordings submitted by Clee is just bluntly denied to have ever occurred. “We are unable to resolve the differences between the accounts of events” (as the response to Clee’s complaint puts it) is a most curious way to frame ‘there’s an irreconcilable difference between what our staff member says they said, and what they’re caught on tape saying.’

The pervading patterns of mendacity do not stop there, either. As applies the demonstrably false claims of an order having been issued removing the ability of returnees to converse through the fenceline – at least three mutually exclusive positions were put forward by the NZDF personnel present upon the ground. It was later shown that no such order actually existed via clarification received by Clee from the very top of the NZDF. In the mean-time, the MoBIE middle-management responder to Clee’s complaint effectively endeavoured to pretend that yes, such an order had been issued – and ignored the discrepancies in the stances of the NZDF personnel at issue in the first place as to what the order was supposed to have been, including the eventual backing down from CPOMED West which admitted the entire thing was made up. To phrase this another way – rather than genuinely engage with the situation (something that should have been quickly and easily accomplishable – it’s literally checking whether an order’s been handed down), all available evidence (including an actual retraction from the facility’s on-site officer responsible who’d fabricated it to begin with) is disregarded in order to produce a ‘we’re right, we’ve always been right, we’re just sorry that this wasn’t communicated effectively to you’. We have, it would seem, always been at war with Eurasia.

Lamentably, this has now ‘contaminated’ mainstream media reporting of this issue – with the Sunday Star Times writeup declaring that “An MBIE official said that during Kalogirou’s stay, a new public health order had come into effect.” And yes, technically speaking, that is true – that is what the MoBIE official in question has said. Even though it has already been shown that the statement is false. And an official response by Air Commodore Webb, the officer in overall command of the NZDF’s involvement with the MIF programme, has further declared that no such order had been issued during the time of Kalogirou’s time in the MIF system. This is the trouble with these sorts of ‘muddying the waters’ tactics from officialdom – unless the journalist is seriously motivated, it’s all too easy to simply buy in to the ‘official narrative’ and present it uncritically as if it were a reliable accounting.

Even something as simple as responding to the complaint within the designated legal timeframe is apparently un-accomplishable in lieu of a lie. The OIAs show MoBIE’s responder fabricating an illusory illness in order to secure an extension to the deadline for a reply; whilst also further misleading the NZDF as to their actions and communications with regard to the complaint. If they are prepared to mislead about the small things, then I would surmise that they are also quite prepared to actively mislead about the larger ones then, also.

Again, it does not take an MBA to see why all of this is worrisome. Because it would appear to illustrate an organizational culture problem within our border control system. Wherein issues are raised, supported with evidence, and then just brushed under the rug by managers that have no propinquity to the problems in question nor any serious desire to meaningfully look into the shortcomings thusly illuminated. I’d suspect that various other of the problems that we’ve experienced with the border control facilities over the past eight months or so would have had a similar causation. Hence why, when the Government ordered mandatory testing of border control workers in response to well-founded concerns that this wasn’t already happening … it didn’t get implemented. Cabinet appears to have been TOLD that this was now occurring, but it took a rather massive quotient of media scrutiny and public outcry following a potential border-breach incident that sent Auckland into a renewed Level 3 lockdown for this to actually begin to take place.

One soldier’s remarks, or one officer’s seeming vindictive attitude toward a returnee are pretty small fry compared to that. But the overarching response to these failures from those who are supposed to really be in control of the whole scheme are manifestations of what look to be the same problem. Because that’s the real test of the systems we have in place to confront and defeat Covid-19 – not so much whether we get everything completely right the first time around (although that is, obviously, ideal), but what we do when something goes awry and how we meaningfully commit to overcoming errors to ensure that they don’t happen again. If we’ve inculcated an organizational culture at the border that is instead committed to brushing away legitimate concerns about what its staff are doing (or, for that matter, not doing) rather than genuinely investigating these potential chinks in our armour – then we are setting ourselves up for failure in the long run. Simple as that.

In any case, while I could go further in detailing additional problematic elements pertaining to both Kalogirou’s MIF stay and the ensuing MoBIE / NZDF (in)actions in its ongoing aftermath … I think I’ve made my point. Namely, that what first seemed to appear to some as being a case of a ‘pushy’, ‘entitled’ guest making unreasonable demands … was actually something entirely different. A case of a Kiwi returnee who’d committed no crime, breached no pandemic health order – yet wound up being treated as some form of hostile dissident to be bullied, cajoled, intimidated, and mislead. And one which has far broader implications for the rest of us, for our ongoing safety in this time of Covid, than we might perhaps have otherwise initially thought.

However, one further point should be made. This article has taken a rather critical perspective on both a number of NZDF personnel (along with moving parts of other agencies involved in the response) and what I view to be systemic failings within our border management scheme and its attached Government organizations. This should not be confused for some sort of innate hostility toward same. Either on my part – or, for  that matter, that of the complainants. Reading through the material around what had happened, I noted several occurrences where individual NZDF or Police personnel performed excellently in view of Clee and Kalogirou – and in the case of the police officers in question, that commendation was passed on via internal police channels. Particularly given Kalogirou’s own brother’s military service, it would be safe to say that there is no inherent anti-military nor anti-police attitudes being haboured by anybody involved.

Indeed, I have the utmost respect for the people who are putting themselves on the line running our Covid-19 response and the border-facing frontage of that. It’s an incredibly complex and difficult situation, and they’ve been asked to perform an integral (and integrally stressful) job for the best part of a year now. They’ve faced everything from fire alarms to Great Escape breakout attempts featuring knotted sheets from high-up hotel windows, and no doubt some truly heart-rending situations when it comes to weighing up the merits for compassionate consideration exemptions from the full 14 days in their care.

But they’re still people. And people in seriously demanding situations may make mistakes. Especially given that our Covid-19 border protection system has been pulled together almost from scratch in pretty short order, and is a constantly evolving ‘work in progress’ – whose major constituent components were never really designed for this in the first place (which includes the perhaps a bit fraught situation of military personnel having to manage civilians – something that some appear to have managed a far more competent job of than others). This is not to endeavour to excuse nor exculpate some of the conduct that’s gone on – but I do think that goes some ways towards provisioning some measure of an explanation. And that’s quite vitally important as we move forward from this all up.

I think that by now, many of us have come to view our border systems as just that – systems. Institutions. Facilities. Protocols. Regimens. Broad, somewhat inhuman morasses of concrete and legislation and testing-kits that carefully funnel air-trafficked arrivals to our shores back out to either the community or the longer-term isolation of quarantine.

It’s not that that is an inaccurate view of things – only that it’s incomplete. We so easily lose sight of the fact that what actually makes up all of these – makes them work, makes use of them, is protected by them and does the protection in turn – is people.

And that’s important. We mustn’t lose sight of it. Because it’s easy to Trust The System in the coldly impersonal sense – to presume that, in aggregate, it appears to be performing its designed function as we need it to and therefore that no more focused scrutiny is required. Even where it errs, we tend to focus upon the person at the top of the chain (the Minister responsible, for example) rather than those people who’ve either personally experienced … or, perhaps, personally caused … the dysfunction in question.

We saw the consequences of that several months ago, when it turned out that the people who’d in theory designed and ‘driven’ the system up in Cabinet – were being fed what now appears to be patent misinformation from those persons closer to the ground. And significant delays in the rollout of much-promised testing of border facility workers was one of the ways that manifested in practice.

That, understandably, caused quite some outrage. And so it should have – the actions of a few individuals and their subsequent endeavours to cover these up may have placed us all at risk. The system wasn’t working – for everybody, even if it was ‘only’ a few border workers that were most directly and immediately affected by their failings.

That’s the thing about system failures – what starts out being a problem which afflicts a small number of people, or even an individual, can rapidly become something which bears dangerous implications for us all.

Hence why I felt that the case of Giota Kalogirou deserved some additional scrutiny – and an analysis which built upon and further developed that presented in the Sunday Star Times.

Because what’s happened here, while it may focus upon and feature individuals – should matter to everybody who relies upon the border defence systems we have in place for protection.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Why am I NOT surprised at any of this!
    The way various gummint fiefdoms are run encourages that attitude among the senior and muddle ranks:
    we’re not here to enforce the law, we ARE the law.
    MoBIE is particularly bad at it also it’s rife elsewhere, as we’ve seen (NZTA, Krekshuns, MSD, etc,, etc)

    “We saw the consequences of that several months ago, when it turned out that the people who’d in theory designed and ‘driven’ the system up in Cabinet – were being fed what now appears to be patent misinformation”
    And sadly members of Cabinet have complete “faith” in them – Paul Buchanan has described it best elsewhere: ‘Ministerial Capture’. Ministers either seem to think they have to publicly support them even IF they’re aware that gatekeeping and bullshit is going on. Better they said nothing and expressed their concern via what is appropriate channels in the first instance such as the SSC – although I’m not sure some Ministers actually realise what’s happening, possibly because of where they’ve come from themselves, or malfunctioning bullshit detectors or whatever.
    In the case of the Ministry for Everything, its rife across all the Bizznizz Units or Cost Centres or however the hell they’ve built this bugger’s muddle of an institution. No doubt though in the mind of its Mr Fixit and failed zoologist God, it’s working as designed. Failed restructures, high staff turnover and burnout among the lower ranks, countless c o u n t l e s s COUNTLESS cases of people that have been on the receiving end of its “expertise” doesn’t seem to get through to its ‘responsible ministers’. Clee and Kalogirou are just another couple of its casualties (rhubarb rhubarb in this space going forward)
    It’s actually one of the main reasons I can no longer support Labour after a lifetime. They’re going to have to do something pretty bloody radical before they’ll get my party vote again. Peeling it apart, and one or two other institutions wouldn’t be a bad start. There’s probably more chance though of the ‘officials’ they have complete faith in being issued with lathi sticks to control the plebs.

      • Are you suggesting I’m not equally concerned about people in poverty?
        The two tier (actually 3 tier) benefit system that’s played out pissed me off immensely. Very unLabour – but at least we now know for sure what we’re dealing with as far as what some Ministers are made of (after nearly 4 years).

  2. Unfortunately the border defence systems we have in place for protection rely on people to be involved. There are always going to be those who don’t or can’t function in ways we would think unquestionably perfect. A massive work force is involved filling a vast range of jobs.

    What is the answer? From the start of impact of the pandemic it was clear there were more expert epidemiologists online than existed with formal qualifications and experience. Everyone too appreciated the nuances of the activity involved in running or being involved in the isolation facilities. We knew how to do it and we wouldn’t have made the cock-ups.

    Maybe constructing a Super Isolation and Quarantine facility for thousands is the way to go. A dedicated, trained, ‘on the same page’ workforce ready to go could be on standby.

    It would make the job easier for the media. They would only have one place to go to find someone disgruntled about a breakfast being cold or late. They’d know for sure where any ‘failure at the border’ occurred if some disease ‘got out.’ (Or would they the way things work with bugs and people?)

    Mostly though we would know who to blame when needed. One head on the block each time. Although on second thoughts that would take the sport out of it – sack just the head of the place? Not those who appointed them? Or the relevant Minister? Or the PM?

  3. I have always thought that we must have been extremely lucky plus our location and small population which has kept us safe from covid.
    The fact that the government in control is the same government that gave us kiwibuildand generally stuffed the private housing market has not given us light rail the list could go on . Before the election you could say there was a good head 3 good support and the rest were empty chairs but now even those at the top are losing their shine .

  4. Has it not been obvious from the beginning that if a person is suffering and diagnosed with an extremely deadly, contagious disease they belong in a hospital and not vacationing in a hotel? Hotels were not built as medical facilities and every person visiting or returning deserves to be treated by New Zealand’s world class medical system. All these people deserve the dignity to be treated by doctors and to be staying in a proper medical center to receive proper information and advise that is guaranteed professional and top notch.

  5. This article is very interesting, just a few days prior to the Pullman outbreak. I noted while working very close by that conversation’s we’re being had through said fence with regularity and on one occasion saw items passed through the fence which didn’t have a 2m spread as described it was more like 1.5 so an easy reach.
    I raised it through various avenues and had zero response. I note that the fence in questionwas repositioned post the well publicized issues.
    I suspect we dodged a bullet.

  6. Spinning and lies are much easier than actually dealing with problems. You have to pester these buggers in management and make the problem painful *for them personally* in order to overcome the customary bureaucratic inertia

    • Poor couple suffer life threatening mental health problems from mean people is Unifrorm National headline

  7. @ Angie Marino.
    Covic-19 is NOT “an extremely deadly, contagious disease”. The fatality rate world-wide is less than 1%. Covid-19 is a mild flu-like infection. Please don’t magnify its significance. Earth & its people have gone through far more significant threats to health than Covid-19.

  8. The point it all went pear-shaped was the point someone thought to publicly question the authority of a military installation. I mean really. The military? The “we don’t shout at people anymore”, military?”
    When my neighbours start throwing furniture out the windows during one of their arguments, I look around for possible unintended victims and if there aren’t any I don’t call the cops, because they tend to make things worse. Now if I was travelling internationally during a global pandemic, and knew i was going to spend two weeks or more under martial law, guess what I wouldn’t do? Complain about a lack of yoga facilities for old men. It’s even contrary to the philosphies surrounding yoga! This will sound like blaming the victims, but I think they are more like people who lack environmental awareness. If there was some sort of sexual or physical abuse going on, then yeah, jump up and down. But yoga? They aren’t in prison, they are there voluntarily. A criminal usually doesn’t have the option of “well if you don’t like it don’t do the crime.” Jetsetters scrambling around the globe for whatever reason and demonstrating their total lack of interest in anything other than themselves doesn’t reach my sympathy radar. I have no interest in bolstering the “rights” of people intent on becoming even dumber than they are. Everything that happened after the point of trying to tell the military they were wrong was just NZ culture being expressed. Doesn’t make the abuses of power, right, doesn’t mean NZ culture is OK, it just is what it is – so plan accordingly. Your points about the stupidity of it all and the danger I accept.

  9. FFS these facilities are not supposed to be a Club Med. There has been too much trust in inmates since those two woman were trusted to drive directly to Wellington last year (but visited their friends). You cant trust anyone so its about time everyone should be restricted to their rooms and not allowed out to wander around. Some 50 incidents out of 115,000 returnees passing through the hotels in 11 months sounds like good safe odds to me. MIQ should have apologised to the couple sack the NZDF person and get on with it. You seem to put a lot of effort into such a trivial issue. These front line staff must be stressed out and have enough challenges to contend with without some do-gooder interfering and wasting their time. There seems to be more satisfied inmates at the MIQ hotels than moaners – everyone will be happier when you are all discharged.

  10. The CPO was being a cunt because the woman in question is drop dead gorgeous. Hence the rape comments from the uniformed troglodyte.
    Stupid people never handle authority well.
    There are a lot thickos in our armed forces.
    I feel for the woman and lucky her she had a clued up lawyer for a partner.
    NZ’s bureaucracy is full of power tripping drongos who don’t know shit from clay have been nowhere and done nothing and never will.
    Poor decision makers, poorly educated and by and large out of their depth.
    I feel for those poor bastards who have to deal with these arseholes in their daily lives.
    One of the few advantages of living in a small community is that that gossip mill lets one know who to avoid when one cannot avoid dealing with the authorities.

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