Editorial: Mr McKenzie, the HR man
Desmond McKenzie was perhaps scared of parallels being drawn with the Richard Patterson incident of a decade ago, of which there may be some. Or maybe he saw - which is likely - an opportunity to burnish his image as a minister intolerant of nepotism - real or perceived.
But whatever his motivation, Mr McKenzie only succeeded in imposing himself in an area of government in which he has no place, thereby setting a dangerous precedent from which, we hope, he is willing to retreat. At the same time, the matter to which we refer demonstrated both poor judgement and a lack of appreciation of functional authority on the part of Colonel Daniel Pryce, the acting CEO of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), for which he deserves a severe reprimand from his board of governors.
Operational context is important.
Mr McKenzie is the Cabinet minister with responsibility for local government. Among the agencies that fall within his purview is the NSWMA. But the NSWMA has a board, appointed by the minister, to which the executive director reports. The minister establishes broad policy, which is left to the board to refine and transmit to the management and staff for implementation. In day-to-day operations, the buck ought to stop with the CEO.
So, back to the Richard Patterson affair. He is the son of the former prime minister, P.J. Patterson, and holds a graduate degree in information technology from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2005, he was employed as a consultant at the NSWMA, just ahead of the agency going into one of its periodic crises and political causes cÈlÈbres over allegations of mismanagement and misuse, if not misappropriation, of public resources.
Among the observations in a probe by then Contractor General Derrick McKoy was that Richard Patterson had completed 60 per cent of the work on one job when he was offered a second consultancy. Under public and political pressure, Richard Patterson resigned, vowing never to take another job in the public sector.
It has emerged that Desmond McKenzie's 35-year-old son, sometime in the recent past, and at his own volition, applied for a vacant position at the NSWMA, was interviewed, and determined suitable for the post. "His experience would also do well for the position, so we offered him the job," said Colonel Pryce.
That should have been that.
But then Colonel Pryce, out of what he believed to be "an abundance of caution", but which was tantamount to a weak abrogation of responsibility, advised neither his chairman nor the board about the prospective hire, but the portfolio minister. He sought approval three rungs up the chain of command.
But worse, Desmond McKenzie assumed that his role included involvement in mid-level human-resource employment matters. "I gave immediate instructions that the transaction should be discontinued immediately," he said.
We believe that the deprived job seeker, depending on the state of the transaction, may be entitled to legal relief for breach of contract, which he should pursue against the minister as well as Colonel Pryce and the board of the NSWMA.
We hope that this is not the start of a pattern of operational intervention by Minister McKenzie into agencies within his portfolio. Such behaviour tends to go terribly wrong. Discrimination, then, may be of a more sinister kind.