Oct 27, 2011

Service or Process ­ or Madness

At last Council meeting, I presented a Mayoral Minute entitled “Service or Process?” in which I questioned whether taxpayers or ratepayers received value for money for many bureaucratic processes undertaken by the three tiers of government. 
Inherent in what I wrote was the question of whether a public instrumentality should, for example, spend $10 to save $1. Now I exclude any suggestion of expenditure to counter corruption in the theme or purpose of what I say – that goes without question.
I do not claim any skill of prescience, but an article in an edition of the Sydney Morning Herald last week showed that, perhaps, I might have some. 
The article detailed reviews and audits that had occurred involving and revolving around the sale, via a web-based auction site, of two billiard tables from the staff recreation area at Parliament House.  The review followed questions from the elder ALP statesman in the Senate, Senator John Faulkner.
I’ve known Senator Faulkner for some time and he has been unrelenting in his campaign for openness and transparency in government and in the oversight of public revenue and expenditure. But, in this case, I think even Senator Faulkner would bristle at what followed his questioning of the relevant government department responsible for management of Parliament House.
Following his questions, consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers were commissioned to audit the process. The audit found the process was within departmental guidelines but it did find some weaknesses in processes.
What government could live without “process”?
These weaknesses in process, or processes, led to a broader review by a former public servant.  As well, an investigation into whether staff had breached their code of conduct was commissioned from the Centre for Public Management.
Not content with all these audits or investigations, a survey of the cultural heritage value of items in Parliament House was also commissioned.
The secretary of the department responsible for Parliament House said he was grateful that such an affair had come to light as it had identified deficiencies in the department’s processes – there’s that word again.
The key is in the detail.  Let’s look at it.  PricewaterhouseCoopers were paid $42,000 for its audit.  The review of weakness in the processes by the former public servant cost $30,000.  Then the Centre for Public Management’s investigation came with a price tag of $25,000.  Lastly, the survey of the cultural heritage value of items will cost an estimated $5,000.
All up, the cost to review the processes of the on-line auction of two redundant Parliament House staff recreation billiard tables cost taxpayers some $102,000.
Process, after all, must be followed --- and reviewed, and investigated, and audited, and reviewed again.
That’s all well and good and the bureaucrats are no doubt reassured that the $102,000 expenditure was justified – all in the name of process.
The only issue I have is that, the outcome (another great word for bureaucrats) of the on-line auction was that the two tables sold for $2,500 each – a grand total of $5,000.
The federal bureaucrats spent $102,000 to check if all due process was followed in the $5,000 sale of two billiard tables.
If that’s the outcome of process then leave me out of it.  I’m just a mug taxpayer who helps foot the bill – for process, of course.
This is “Yes Minister” to the nth degree – or bureaucratic madness.
In Canberra, however, it’s normal process!

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