Paul Little at large
Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Surprise! A muck-up in Wellington

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Although the original error occurred under a Labour Government that hasn't stopped Labour leader Andrew Little from blaming National. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Although the original error occurred under a Labour Government that hasn't stopped Labour leader Andrew Little from blaming National. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The affair of the screwed-up payroll has again given politicians an opportunity to show themselves at their worst.

Like they need help with that.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation And Employment combines the former Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Science and Innovation, Department of Labour and Department of Building and Housing. Those units were melded together in 2012, and you've probably noticed that things have been a lot more innovative since then and we have had absolutely no problems with housing.

In 2014 the new ministry finally got around to combining the payroll systems of the previous four entities at which point some, er, anomalies came to light. These were traced back to a law change in 2004.

Two years later they are still coming to light, to the point that now they have to be acknowledged and Something Must Be Done.

When I say anomalies I mean thousands of workers being underpaid for decades, particularly when it comes to holiday pay. As is usual in such cases, those affected did not suffer the inconvenience of being overpaid.

Partly, I blame social media. There was a period when workers wasted much of their employers' time calculating their entitlements down to the last cent and working out just when they could take that holiday and for how long and to how distant a location.

Now they use that time to update their Facebook status.

Politicians, however, are blaming each other. Because blaming your opponents for everything, including your own mistakes, is the very oxygen of politics.

Although the original error occurred under a Labour Government that hasn't stopped Labour leader Andrew Little from blaming National. Apparently this Government should have noticed his old Government's mistake much earlier and done something about it.

What other Labour stuff-ups is he planning to accuse the Government of being responsible for, while making his party even more irrelevant than it is? National, on the other hand, has blamed Labour for the imbroglio - probably because it was Labour's fault.

To their credit, so far the Greens haven't blamed anybody, probably because they're still looking up words that are new to them, such as business, innovation and employment.

Blaming your opponents for everything, including your own mistakes, is the very oxygen of politics.

The payroll debacle highlights yet again that we're not very good at organising things. Things like bringing Christchurch back to life, making Wellington's buildings earthquake proof in a timely fashion, coming up with a decent flag, putting reins on the Auckland housing market, providing decent regional infrastructure and getting hold of someone who can translate English into Hindi. Don't count on that piss-up in the brewery taking place as scheduled next week.

I can believe tennis champion Maria Sharapova took meldonium for health reasons. I can believe the fact that it enhances athletes' performance was just a fortunate side effect of that.

And I can believe she didn't know it had been banned from January 1. But I have difficulty believing a global sports superstar with a large number of staff didn't have at least one whose job it was to keep an eye on what items were on the official list of banned substances and check they weren't in her medicine cabinet. And it turned out she had been warned repeatedly. If sports people want to keep cheating with drugs they're going to have to come up with better stories.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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