Saturday, March 30, 2024

Max Salmon: Too complex

How complex is too complex? My new report for the New Zealand Initiative, Cabinet Congestion: The Growth of a Ministerial Maze, poses this question with respect to the executive branch of New Zealand’s Government.

New Zealand’s executive is incredibly powerful. Its members control the levers of state power through its departments and agencies. Everything from healthcare to roads, education to foreign policy, is within its purview.

Importantly, the Ministers who control the executive branch are the leading MPs of the parties that form the Government. These Ministers then control policy creation and law creation.

Even a cursory look at the layout of the executive raises questions about complexity. The executive branch comprises 41 government departments and 27 Crown agencies. These organisations answer to a combined 78 Ministerial portfolios and a further 22 associate portfolios, held by 28 Ministers.

With most Ministers holding at least two portfolios and around half of all departments serving multiple portfolios, a chaotic spiderweb of responsibility emerges.

Zooming in, the level of complexity becomes clearer still.

Departments are frequently split between multiple Ministers. For example, the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)­ answers to no less than 16 ministers­.

Policy areas such as environment and construction are split across multiple departments. For instance, environmental policy is split across the Ministries for Transport, Primary Industries, Environment, Internal Affairs, and other Crown agencies like the Environmental Protection Authority.

Ministers often hold unrelated portfolios. Casey Costello holds seniors and customs portfolios, and associate portfolios in police, health, and immigration. Judith Collins has no less than seven portfolios.

The complexity of our system makes us an outlier among parliamentary democracies with populations similar to ours. Compared with the combined average of Denmark, Singapore, Norway, Ireland and Finland, we have 50% more Ministers, 156% more departments, and 280% more portfolios.

Our Ministers are frequently spread too thin, leaving them ill-equipped to undertake serious reform. The fragmented lines of reporting resulting from so many agencies reporting to multiple Ministers pose coordination, accountability, and resourcing problems. Important portfolios such as Environment and Tertiary Education often end up on the Executive’s periphery.

All Kiwis suffer when the Executive is not efficient or effective. We must consider what can be done to simplify our government to deliver the best for New Zealand.

Max Salmon is a Research Intern at the New Zealand Initiative. He joins as a generalist, with interests in education, infrastructure, and energy. This article was first published HERE


CXH said...

Our various departments are producing average results, all while spending more money and employing more people. MBIE is meant to be some sort of overlord, monitoring them. It would seem they are not doing their job, despite ballooning costs and numbers. Perhaps just lop off the entire department and start again.

Clean them out. said...

Our councils are no better either. Browny is a leastt starting to sort that for Auckland. Tauranga has 4 despots making the rules never mind the ratepayers.
And so it goes.
Less regulation, less welfare of all kinds including corporate and trust welfare.
Hurry up.