Someone needs to be sacked over Winz bungle

RICHARD LONG
Last updated 09:24 23/10/2012

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Richard Long

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OPINION: Just where is all this going to end? Just a month or so ago the ACC mass leak of private information was the issue tipped to bring down the Government.

That was mightily outclassed by the Hollywood-style police raid on Kim Dotcom, bungled extradition proceedings and what turned out to be illegal eavesdropping by the top-secret GCSB.

That was followed by the so-called prime ministerial brain- fade and John Key's subsequent correction to Parliament about when he had been informed about the German internet pirate. Now we have the inconceivable bungle of public information computer kiosks at Social Development Ministry offices able to be used to access private and confidential material at the ministry.

Not only that, but it turns out the fault had been detected, reported to the ministry, outside experts had subsequently been hired and had reported on the fault - but nothing happened.

It was no wonder the no- nonsense Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennett looked thunderous and was almost speechless with rage at the subsequent press conference. This sort of stuff makes Gliding On, the Roger Hall comedy series on the public service, look benign by comparison.

The extraordinary bungle in having a public access computer system linked to the ministry's own database without adequate firewalls is serious enough, but it is the lethargy which followed the detection and confirmation of the fault which is even more appalling.

The ministry needs to address the faulty design as well as the indolence which followed reportage of the fault. This demands sackings of those who bungled, rather than a ceremonial hara-kiri by the chief executive, which is the normal procedure.

Almost certainly the initial alert and the fault report from the computer consultants would have been passed up the chain. There is a need to find out where this stalled and why - and why the initial recipients of the warnings did not follow up the lack of action by superiors. This smacks of the "well, I've passed it on, it's not my problem" approach. Labour and the unions are arguing that this is all the fault of government cost-cutting. Actually it is sloppiness and incompetence on a grand scale.

Not surprisingly, Justice took a look at its system as a result of this - and closed kiosks similarly. Others will no doubt follow. The new technology rollout to make systems more accessible to the public will inevitably be delayed till foolproof systems can be developed.

But despite this and the avalanche of political mini- scandals dogging the Government, it has to be noted that ours seem to fade into obscurity compared with those faced by our criminal cousins across the ditch.

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A couple of decades ago we had the great Australian Wheat Board scandal, when the Ockers managed to avoid United Nations sanctions by dealing through middlemen to secure 90 per cent of the Iraqi wheat market. This involved kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime which came to be known as the oil-for-wheat deal.

Their latest saga is just as improbable. It involves a glamorous blonde Australian trade official formerly based in Hanoi, her friend, a Vietnamese spy agency colonel, and alleged kickbacks to Asian officials and politicians.

It is claimed these were provided by firms owned by the Australian Reserve Bank in order to secure contracts for printing Australian-designed polymer banknotes for Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Australian Federal Police have charged former executives of the firms Securency, half owned by the Reserve Bank, and Note Printing Australia, fully owned, with bribing central bank officials and politicians in all three countries.

Senior Australian trade commissioner Elizabeth Masamune has been named in the Australian media in connection with the scandal. She was based in Hanoi when she reportedly met and formed a close relationship with Colonel Anh Ngoc Luong from Vietnam's spy agency, the Ministry of Public Security. He and his company are alleged to have received $20 million in commissions.

With spies, sex, corruption and multi-million dollar illegal kickbacks, that certainly looks like a better subject for a colourful inquiry than faulty computer kiosks.

Understandably, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has resisted the clamour so far.

- The Dominion Post

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