NZ civil servants could be for hire
New Zealand public servants could be contracted out to other countries under a proposal being considered by the Government.
Nelson MP Nick Smith said in Blenheim last week that about three weeks ago he visited the United Arab Emirates to discuss the development of an environmental standards agency for the Persian Gulf nation.
In an interview yesterday, Dr Smith said the Government was looking at the opportunity to sell public services where New Zealand had particular expertise, to other countries.
"There's no question that the public service is under pressure.
"It makes sense for us to be able to retain the high skills and the foreign exchange earnings from their good systems and staff."
He highlighted China and Middle Eastern nations such as the United Arab Emirates as potential markets.
"I travelled with Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry staff to the UAE. They're a well-off country that is developing rapidly. They have got some huge challenges around environmental systems, in terms of very acute water issues, fisheries, air quality, biosecurity.
"They are very interested in pursuing a relationship with New Zealand environmental agencies."
Dr Smith said there had been an exchange of letters around furthering the relationship and he had issued an invitation for their environmental people to come to New Zealand.
"I think there are opportunities for us in our public services.
"I'm particularly interested in the environmental area where New Zealand has high level systems and skills, and legislative experience, that could help some of these developing countries.
"The analogy I would make is that initially our public sector was quite antsy about the education sector being seen as a potential source of foreign exchange earnings but today they earn over $1 billion a year from our very good quality education system."
China also had potential, he said. "China has grown very rapidly and their public is increasingly environmentally concerned.
"They're interested in how they can get good systems in place.
"There is potential in those arrangements that is good for them and for New Zealand."
Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said that using the public service in an advisory role, particularly in terms of overseas aid programmes, was not uncommon but this would be different in that it was a large money-making venture.
"There's no doubt New Zealand public servants have the skills and expertise . . . and some might welcome the opportunity.
"However it does seem ironic that at a time when the Government is running down the public service and taking out valued expertise and capacity, it is willing to consider using it to make money. It doesn't sit comfortably."
Ms Pilott said the proposal raised questions about exactly what the public service was there for and there would be a strong argument to say that it shouldn't be used as a cash cow for the Government.
- The Marlborough Express