Labour Needs a lesson in Financial Management

Thakur Ranjit Singh
Auckland, September 15, 2018
It was Mark Twain who said, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.”
He said it more than 100 years ago but it very aptly applies to Labour’s Justice Minister Andrew Little regarding his retort to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s stance that: “My expectation is that when we set a budget, we stick to it.”
This was when the final cost of Justice Summit held in August in Porirua was more than double its budget of $700,000.
The Prime Minister was reacting to the final cost of $1.5 million.
Mr Little defended this cost and said he was satisfied with it.
Error of judgement
Poor Mr Little, he made a huge error of judgement. He is a nice fellow, and in fact Fiji Pundit bestowed him the title, ‘The Queen-Maker,’ an honour that he richly deserved. Had he not given that strategic Hail Mary Pass of Labour Leadership to Jacinda Ardern, Labour would have been languishing in opposition.
His timely relinquishing of his position gave him this opportunity to be in Government and now defending the indefensible when his portfolio is caught napping.

Andrew Little (Picture Supplied)
Experience counts
I wonder whether Mr Little has previously done any big projects, events or organised anything involving financial management and budgeting? I wonder whether he was ever obligated to work to an estimated expenditure. Having worked with Boards of a Bank, a City Council and a Newspaper in Fiji, I appreciate the importance, prudence of financial management and working to budgets and forecasts. One’s career and livelihood may depend on it.
It appears that Mr Little is bereft of any past experience in this area, because unexplained variance of over 100%, as in this case, would have resulted in his termination, unless it was beyond his control. If in any of the Boards above, we had attained the variance as in Justice Summit, heads would surely have rolled.
Importance of discipline
What Justice Minister failed to realise is that the Prime Minister was NOT questioning the cost of the summit. What she rightly questioned the lack of financial discipline by somebody who could have been the Prime Minister. She was questioning double the estimated costs, and as the guardian of national purse, she has a right to do that and expect her Ministers to regard public money as their own. All she called was a show of financial prudence by her team.
This whole incident reflects on dereliction of duties of Mr Little’s support staff, and they need to be disciplined.
What credible support service does he get as Justice Minster? Doesn’t he have a highly paid Chief Executive (read ‘on six figure’)? In turn is he/she not supported by equally highly paid and highly qualified finance people and bean –counters? Did they do project plan, especially projected costing and budget and estimate for expenditure of this summit? If not, why not?
Heads should roll
If yes, then heads needs to roll unless Labour wishes to look at some real holes in their overall budget with its support staff sleeping on the job.
And does Labour have other Ministers who are also sleeping on the job, supporting such oversight, and lacking proper judgement? How long will people expect Jacinda Ardern to be her brother’s keeper?
This article comes on the heels of Fiji Pundit article questioning a wanting media and communications support for the Prime Minister.
I take no pleasure in writing such critique of a Party which I support and whose member I am. But I had warned them, and they have failed to notice that this Devil’s Advocate is real.
I will not sit on the side-line and allow Labour Party to score own goals, and falling on their swords as they did while nine years in opposition.
They need to be accountable to their members and voters who have shown confidence in their capabilities.
And Fiji Pundit will pull them up whenever again they aim towards their own goal.
What a waste!
Finally, to the apex of the summit. I have attended many such summits, seminars, conferences or whatever you call them, both in Fiji and New Zealand. And what do you remember them for? The fine speakers? The video presentations that wake you from boring speakers? The message? The fantastic multi-media presentations? The free bag and other souvenirs? No, wrong.
What you remember is the buffet layout and feasting.
And this Justice Summit in Porirua will be known for a “decadent glutton free chocolate brownie, pork, apricot and thyme pastries, four different kinds of croissants, luxury pies and chicken and cranberry casserole”
Indeed, justice has been done to this Justice Summit!
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and runs his blog, Fiji Pundit.

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