Sunday, 3 February 2013

Why Hekia Parata (and Anne, Craig and Bill) should go!!

I've been wanting to write my opinions about Hekia Parata for months - but held off in the belief that the right time to blog would arrive.  It has.

If anything, the last week has shown why Hekia Parata should not be a minister of the government of New Zealand.  It beggars belief that John Key did not stand her down in his cabinet reshuffle a few weeks ago - and that really must be due to Hekia's mate Bill English (more on him later) that she still is a minister.  The fact that John Key appointed Steven Joyce to sort out the Novopay debarcle also speaks volumes.  It tells us that Hekia cocked up and is unable to fix it, to be blunt.

But Hekia isn't the only one who should be for the chopping block.  Read on as I explain.

The last week has been daily revelations of what has happened since the contract for the education payroll first went to tender in 2005.  John Campbell (Campbell Live Friday 1 February 2013 "What really happened in the Novopay debarcle") did a wonderful blow by blow of highlights, and the following really stood out:

  • Talent2 were shortlisted for the payroll contract in 2005 (under a Labour government).
  • Talent2 won the payroll contract in 2008 (under a Labour government).
  • Talent2 said they would have the new education payroll up and running in 2010.
  • The name "Novopay" first became the label for the payroll in October 2008.
  • "There is a good relationship between the Ministry and Talent2" - minutes from the Novopay Board in November 2008.
  • "Project in Yellow status overall due to slippage in some deliverables" - minutes from the Novopay Board in May 2009 (under a National government - Anne Tolley the Minister of Education).
  • "Feedback has raised three areas of concern... risks around the late start for the payroll service" - for a briefing to Cabinet in July 2009 (under a National government).
  • "Concerns raised on slippage in relation to milestone dates.... Talent2 have undertaken to improve processes..." - minutes from the Novopay Board in August 2009.
  • "Information lacking still.  Need for a frank assessment... risks around changes to the schedule" - minutes from the Novopay Board in February 2010.
  • "The confidence level of the proposed 'Go Live' date remained low" - minutes from the Novopay Board February/March 2010 (under a National government with Anne Tolley still the Minister of Education).
  • Go Live formally delayed until 2011 in May 2010.
  • "The Board should real concern the project had missed the first milestone..." - minutes from the Novopay Board in July 2010.
  • "There are also some trust issues between teams... A frank and open discussion took place" - minutes from the Novopay Board in July 2010.
  • "The Board needs to have confidence in the Project to be able to report to the Minister and the Cabinet on progress" - minutes from the Novopay Board in January 2012 (under a National government with Hekia Parata having been the Minister of Education for one month).
  • "The Board noted it does not have confidence in Talent2's forecasting..." - minutes from the Novopay Board in January 2012.
  • "A formal warning letter was delivered to Talent2" - minutes from the Novopay Board in April 2012.
  • "Talent2 is laying the foundations for an allegation that the Ministry is in breach of its good faith obligations..." from a highly confidential internal MOE memo dated 19 April 2012.  "This is a clear signal that Talent2 will adopt the position that any termination by the Ministry would amount to repudiation of contract... If correct, that would entitle Talent2... to pursue the Ministry for damages."
So back in November 2008, all was cheery and rosy, the honeymoon stage so to speak.  So what went fundamentally wrong between then and August 2009?  I could say that it was a change of government, a change of leadership at the top.  We all know that as soon as National came to power there was a dramatic change of culture within the Ministry of Education, they stopped talking to schools and ECE centres and collaboration and consultation ceased.

John Campbell told us that Talent2 were known to use their charm offensive when challenged over the "slippages" in delivering milestones.  But one wonders why Anne Tolley, then Minister of Education, didn't challenge these: 
  • Was she just too inexperienced as a minister?
  • Did the MOE cover up the extent of the deficiencies of Talent2?
  • Were the MOE too scared to tell Mrs Tolley what was happening?
When National came in, they had a policy of decreasing the public service, taking people out of backroom jobs and putting them on the frontline.  The MOE was not immune to this, and lost some quality people with a lot of institutional knowledge and experience.  Those remaining in the MOE may well have been considering their job security when it came to rocking the boat over the Novopay lack of progress.  Combine that loss of knowledge and experience with concerns over job security and the fact that Anne Tolley was quite well known for throwing wobblies when she was told something she didn't want to hear from the MOE, and the answers to the above questions could be answered with: "quite possibly, yes."

Karen Sewell was still the Secretary of Education at this stage, but left the position in 2011 when Lesley Longstone took up the role.  It was not a secret that Ms Sewell was not a fan of National's education policies and was having difficulty stomaching the implementation of these policies.  One does wonder if she also tried to have a frank discussion with Minister Tolley over the lack of completion of milestones by Talent2, but was rebuffed.

So we know that there were concerns as early as August 2009 that the new Novopay pay roll system was in trouble for implementation in 2010, but then 2010 comes and "confidence is low" in Talent2, the 'Go Live' is pushed back to 2011 and no one is jumping up and down??  This is public money!!  John Key talked constantly of transparent government, but where is the transparency here?  Shouldn't there have been enough concern at the fact these milestones were not reached in mid 2010 to start an audit or investigation of some sort?  But then again, Anne Tolley was somewhat distracted by the strong opposition to National Standards that was in full swing at the time.

And as we know, Novopay did not 'Go Live' in 2011.  But New Zealand Post's new pay roll system did in April 2011.  "EPMU national industry organiser Joe Gallagher told NZ Newswire that problems with the pay system at NZ Post provided by Talent2 are ongoing more than 18 months after it went live on April 1, 2011."  Check it out by clicking here.  "Mr Gallagher said problems with the Talent2 system at NZ Post begged the question of why the company got another government contract....  NZ Post workers had been over-paid and under-paid. There had been thousands of mistakes from a system that was not fit for purpose.... 'I could go on all day about it,' he said.  Even now it is still not perfect, and they are still ironing the problems out of this "dog"."

Would it scare you much if I told you now that the Fire Service will this year "Go Live" with a pay roll developed by Talent2 as well?  My source tells me that fire fighters are nervous and are ready to walk off the job if the first pay goes wrong.

John Campbell's summary misses out anything that happened regarding Novopay between July 2010 and January 2012.  One wonders what happened, or didn't, during that 18 month period.  Because wouldn't this have been a good time to make sure it was fixed?  Is this the reason why Anne Tolley was moved sideways from the Education portfolio into the Police and Corrections portfolios rather than failing to get on top of the resistance to National Standards and plain being a useless and tactless tantrum throwing Minister of Education (by the way, I feel your pain police members and prison/corrections staff)?

So after the 2011 election John Key reshuffled his cabinet.  Moving Anne Tolley out of the Education portfolio was the answer to the sector's prayers.  We looked at Hekia Parata as a new set of eyes and ears, and hoped that she would be more forthcoming in collaborating with the different areas of the sector.

How wrong we were.

Hekia has managed to allienate the education sector in such a professional way that Anne Tolley could only profess to be an amateur!  Hekia spoke at Learning at Schools in Hamilton in January and later in April at the National Aspiring Principals Programme (NAPP) hui and impressed with her ability to speak with authority of the issues of the day and statistics without referring to notes.  By the time of the Rural Principal's conference in August, the announcements to the Christchurch Schools in August and her amazing performances at the NZEI and PPTA annual meetings in September/October, we knew that she had the same speil to give to everyone and did not like being challenged. 

She pointed her finger at the Rural Principal's conference, waggling it at them like they were naughty children.  She knew what all those colour coded badges meant the day that she sat with Lesley Longstone and Gerry Brownlee to tell the principals and board chairs the fates of their schools.  She sat there with a sour look on her face and steam coming out of her ears at NZEI's annual meeting because members rebutted her policies and ideas and told her how it actually was, but she also offended every teacher in the room when she told us we were failing to teach guided reading, mathematics and science effectively (maybe that's because National dumped the Literacy Project in favour of National Standards, hijacked the Numeracy Project with National Standards, and decimated our advisory services so we no long have science advisors)!  And then she told off the PPTA annual meeting because Pasifica and Maori children are failing because teachers don't pronounce their names properly (perhaps we should just call her Patricia).

And then there are Hekia's other brilliant standout efforts of the last year:
  • Ignoring advice of the MOE and following Treasury's advice instead to increase class sizes under the lie of "improving teacher quality.
  • Ignoring the electorate/parents cries of foul against increasing class sizes.
  • The backdown - only after John Key realised it was an epic fail of a policy and was hurting his popularity in the blue ribbon electorates.
  • The announcement that the minimum teacher qualification should be a one year post-grad (God help children if this comes to pass!).
  • Signing off on Novopay to "Go Live", despite the Novopay Board saying that there were at least 147 problems with it, without investigating further.
  • Not fronting over Novopay or the reorganisation of Christchurch schools.
  • An atrocious relationship with her Secretary of Education, Lesley Longstone, which spilled out into the public domain and culminated in Longstone resigning.
  • Going through several private secretaries and a losing a senior advisor two months into a two year secondment.  The lastest private secretary to go was just before Christmas. 
  • Passing the buck for Novopay onto Craig Foss.
  • Refusing to attend important events in the education community within New Zealand and overseas.
  • Refusing to engage with the NZEI, PPTA, NZAIMS, early childhood organisations and other organisations over educational issues.
  • And then to top it off there was her comment about how it was "karma" that MOE staff had their pay affected last week - what she failed to comprehend when she said that was that a lot of those MOE staff have nothing to do with Novopay as they could be speech language therapists, GSE teachers.....
And as for John Key's assertion that there is no other person who cares as much about the achievement or the underachievement of Maori and Pasifica children than Hekia Parata, well he does a disservice to every teacher with Maori and Pasifica students in their classes.  And that comment on her being a top notch communicator - sure, if you like her cliches and jingoisms, I'm quite sure she would make a killing in the world of advertising or sales... perhaps she should work with Suzanne Paul selling some Natural Glow or some new wonder vacume cleaner!!

For another blogger's view of Hekia, read this blog "What the Hekia?" and realise I'm not the only one who thinks Hekia is not up to the job.

So far I have commented on Anne Tolley and Hekia Parata in their time as the Minister of Education.  I have shown that they both had numerous opportunities to prevent the train wreck that is Novopay.

But two more people have a part to play in this debarcle. 

Craig Foss was given responsibility for Novopay.  I've been wondering when that happened exactly.... does anyone know the answer?  John Key claims that this was done to allow Hekia to oversee the set up for Charter Schools (another dog of an idea), which one would think should have been in John Banks' court considering it was supposedly an ACT condition of coalition, but then Banks was a bit busy at the time dealing with his dodgy donation deals.  How soon did Hekia know that Novopay was a "dog with a few fleas" (to borrow Steven Joyce's apt phrase) and decided to throw that hospital pass onto someone else?  Why didn't Craig Foss ask the questions when the milestones weren't met and the Novopay Board questioned weather or not the "Go Live" would work?  Why was he not more upfront with the education community and the questioning in parliament?  Why did Craig Foss sign off on the "Go Live" despite the 147 identified errors in the pay roll system?

And then there is Hekia's good mate Bill English.  Minister of Finance, Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy National Leader, number two in the National Party rankings.  (I have a lot more I could say about Bill English and his performance, but another time).  Hekia is a part of this government because she is Bill English's protege and mate.  And Bill English, I assume because he is the Minister of Finance, also signed off on Novopay to "Go Live".  Surely, the man who is in charge of the government's finances, in charge of how our taxes are spent, would make sure he was approving the go ahead for a project that wasn't going to cost the tax payer a fortune and embarrass the government he is deputy leader of? 

But it seems the answers to all my questions regarding the roles of Anne Tolley, Hekia Parata, Craig Foss and Bill English are rather unsatisfactory.

As a tax payer I feel we are being cheated by a government that can not dot its 'i's and cross its 't's in the rush to implement poor policy and sell off our country.

As a teacher who has begun at a new school this last week, I wait nervously for Wednesday morning to see if I have been paid or not (my new principal assures me that all the feedback from Novopay is good, but please excuse me if I have no trust in Novopay).

Basically, Novopay has been an epic fail and should be thrown to the sharks.  Hekia Parata has been an epic fail as the Minister of Education.  But to sum it up, I have a little report card below:

  • Hekia Parata  =  failed to meet the standard
  • Anne Tolley  =  failed to meet the standard
  • Craig Foss     =  failed to meet the standard
  • Bill English   =  failed to meet the standard


  1. Great work again - it should be required reading for all educators, possibly for all Kiwis. Good luck in the new job, and fingers crossed that your wages are right... ~Dianne

  2. Fantastic post Melulator! Couldn't agree more with what you have stated, I enjoyed that Campbell Live too! I'm certainly glad I'm not the only one throwing my hands up in despair about Hekia Parata (and thank you for the link to my post). Looking forward to reading more from you soon :) Kia kaha.

  3. Great piece of writing - many thanks!

  4. For the record, I did get paid. But the teacher aide/cleaner/caretaker didn't. The principal release/ORRs/Reading Recovery teacher didn't. The admin lady/bus driver didn't. I assume the pincipal did. 2/5 correct. I'm the only new factor in the mix. Interesting.