Perspective

datePosted on 07:33, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

The Standard and Kiwiblog last night, but not for the first time, crystallised what it is to be two sides of the same political coin. Both covered Health Minister Tony Ryall’s removal* of Richard Thomson from the Otago DHB chair using, respectively, the verbs to sack the old one and to appoint the new one. The difference in emphasis couldn’t be clearer.

For what it’s worth, DPF’s headline is more correct. Ryall didn’t actually fire Richard Thomson, he has been removed from the chair but will remain a DHB member (though the Herald article referenced in the Standard post also uses the `sack’ terminology). On the other hand, I think Tane’s analysis is more correct – Thompson has been removed from the post for political reasons more than for reasons of governance. However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so – he’s got two birds with one stone here.

L

* see how hard it is to avoid partisan terminology?

[Edit: Silly me for believing the Herald - it's spelt Richard Thomson - changed.]

6 Responses to “Perspective”

  1. What would Hayek say on February 18th, 2009 at 10:14

    Good posting Lew.

  2. Carrier on February 18th, 2009 at 10:51

    On the other hand, I think Tane’s analysis is more correct – Thompson has been removed from the post for political reasons more than for reasons of governance. However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so – he’s got two birds with one stone here.

    I’ve read Tane’s “analysis” in the form that you have quoted approvingly, Lew, but I can’t find any evidence adduced for the conclusion that you reach.

  3. Lew on February 18th, 2009 at 11:10

    Carrier,

    I’ve read Tane’s “analysis” in the form that you have quoted approvingly, Lew, but I can’t find any evidence adduced for the conclusion that you reach.

    I’m not really looking to argue Thompson’s corner, but the facts as I see them are as follows:

    1. Huge fraud was perpetrated by an unscrupulous insider, commencing before Thomson’s chairmanship.
    2. Thompson took all appropriate actions to catch and prosecute the perpetrator.
    3. Thompson’s colleagues at the board agreed he had done so, and done a good job.
    4. Thompson is a Labour party member in a Labour party town.
    5. Ryall is a new National minister looking to stamp his authority on the portfolio, and set a new standard of accountability.
    6. Thompson’s failure to root out the perpetrator sooner – even though he evidently took all possible actions to do so – make him vicariously responsible for the loss.
    7. #6 provided Ryall with an ironclad pretext for #5 and to make an example out of #4, which is a double win for Ryall, even though Thompson did nothing wrong except inherit an ugly situation and make the best he could of it.

    L

  4. Carrier on February 18th, 2009 at 11:41

    Thanks for the comment, Lew. On the surface, #2 and #3 look a bit self-serving for the protagonists, and I don’t know what independent substantiation exists for what they contend.

    If #2 has substance, it’s surprising that it took quite so many years for the fraud to be exposed. And if #2 is shakey in any way, the rest of your list looks like a make-weight argument, conjecture at best. After all, Tane acknowledges:

    However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so …

  5. Lew on February 18th, 2009 at 11:46

    Carrier,

    Thanks for the comment, Lew. On the surface, #2 and #3 look a bit self-serving for the protagonists, and I don’t know what independent substantiation exists for what they contend.

    Yes, challenging #2 and #3 should be the basis for Ryall’s decision, except he hasn’t argued these points – he’s simply argued that Thompson is vicariously responsible (#6).

    However the governance failure was bad enough that Ryall was on safe ground in doing so …

    I argued that, not Tane. It is provided by #6 above. `Safe ground’ is roughly analagous to `arguably justified’, as opposed to `certainly justified’. Nobody is doubting that he’s within his rights to demote Thompson – he clearly is, as the Minister of Health. The argument is about his grounds of justification. Since he hasn’t explicitly called #2 or #3 into question, it raises doubts, which can handily be satisfied by recourse to #4. If he wants to dispel this sort of speculation, perhaps he should provide an alternative explanation (such as a challenge to #2 and #3).

    L

  6. Carrier on February 18th, 2009 at 18:01

    Lew – my sincere apologies for misinterpreting your argument as one from Tane. From your first post, the section quoted appeared to be linked with “Tane’s analysis”, but your explanation has removed any ambiguity (which may have existed only in my mind anyway).

    I remain sceptical about the self-serving impact of #2 and #3 in your list (self-serving for the ODHB Chair and Members, not for you, Lew!). That scepticism is reinforced by your apparent acceptance of #2 and #3:

    6. Thompson’s failure to root out the perpetrator sooner – even though he evidently took all possible actions to do so – make him vicariously responsible for the loss.

    Acceptance of the “all possible actions” contention(not my position from this distance) limits proper justifications of Ryall’s decision to vicarious responsibility. In reality there may have been a blend of personal responsibility – tardiness in rooting out the fraudulent conduct – and vicarious responsibility – the kind of responsibility inevitably attaching to the overall head of a failing governance structure. I have no difficulty with that type of scenario, whether in logic or in Ryall’s decision-making process. The limited facts available in public leave me reluctant, however, to accept the further assertion within #7 ” … even though Thompson did nothing wrong except inherit an ugly situation and make the best he could of it.”

    In any event it’s a long bow to draw to inject “Labour Party member” as a prime reason for Ryall’s action. Apart from Thompson’s party membership being accepted as a fact, apparently, where’s the evidence, any evidence other than scuttlebutt, for that motivating or forming any part of Ryall’s decision?

    We’re both agreed that there was a failure of governance on the ODHB. That’s justification enough. Anything more is mere conjecture in the absence of hard evidence.

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